The Road to 2021

Nurturing the growth of our Philanthropy Innovation Summit community has been one of the greatest honors of my time at the helm of Stanford PACS. This cadre of changemakers united by their participation in our Summit series is a remarkable group of philanthropists who are hungry to engage with peers and thought leaders to really learn how to leverage social capital and philanthropic impact. It is especially meaningful now to see this peer group of philanthropists provide insights and leadership while simultaneously using their financial capital during this tumultuous and difficult time of crisis.

The transformational value of coming together at the biennial Philanthropy Innovation Summit seems more important now than ever as our communities – global, national, state and local – struggle to find the way forward for health and economic stability. I am inspired by the Summit community’s willingness to leverage philanthropy to fill gaps where governments and nonprofits are stretched. This is the moment to create catalytic impact.

Looking back, as our country slowly re-emerged after the great recession in 2009, we entered an unprecedented era of incredible wealth creation that led to the accumulation of extraordinary philanthropic resources. In recent years 1% of the donors are making nearly 50% of individual philanthropic gifts, and individuals are responsible for 80% of giving. As this philanthropic capacity was increasing, the Stanford PACS Advisory Board began hearing from friends and colleagues. Those with the capacity to give began asking questions such as . . . how do I make my first gift, where should I give, where can I learn from others, how do I measure impact, and so many more questions.

By 2012 the need, and the opportunity, were clear. There were no major convenings specifically for smart, dedicated, thoughtful high capacity donors and PACS was just the right place to launch and scale such an offering. Advisory Board Chairman Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen had been waiting for the right opportunity.  We proposed and initiated the inaugural Philanthropy Innovation Summit with the Stanford PACS Advisory Board as an invitation-only, intensive peer-learning program for individual high capacity philanthropists who want to be more strategic with their giving and achieve greater impact.

Since that inaugural Summit in 2013, the biennial Summit has drawn hundreds of philanthropists who are giving in the range of six to seven figures annually. Laura and the Advisory Board have done a remarkable job attracting leading philanthropists to share their approach, strategy and learning journey — including Laura Arnold, Marc Benioff, Brian Chesky, Melinda Gates, Laurene Powell Jobs, Pam Joyner, Luis Miranda, Jeff Raikes, David Siegel, Liz Simons, Clara Wu Tsai and Darren Walker just to name a few – with our special Summit group of participants and speakers.

Our first Summit in September 2013 was a full day-and-half gathering of 180 philanthropists and peer speakers exploring their personal journeys, how they got started, their process of values clarification and those initial steps forward. We included six workshops that were split between issues and frameworks.

As we looked ahead to 2015, we acted on feedback from our participants and pivoted to a one-day convening and dinner in addition to six workshops with a gathering of 220 philanthropists. We committed to a deeper focus on what motivates donors to give, how to create a personal strategy for giving and learning about the generational differences in approaches.

As we gathered 250 participants in 2017, we tackled the issues of power and influence from wealth and philanthropy, family dynamics, impact investing, and evidence-based philanthropy. The Summit community had expanded its reach with 12% of the participants from outside the US and nearly 40% of guests were beyond California (as compared to 20% in 2015).

Word was spreading and in 2019 we gathered 355 philanthropists, and while 49% of our guests hailed from the San Francisco Bay Area and California, another 40% were from diverse areas in the United States including the Northeast, Midwest, Southwest, South and Pacific Northwest. The participants also included 11% international guests – representing Australia, China, India, Central and South America, and Europe.

We launched the 2019 Summit with mainstage speakers, which included many luminaries of philanthropy, the public sector, high-tech executives and business leaders. Top of mind themes including ethics and tech, the role of philanthropy in policy and advocacy, funding diversity and inclusion, the journey to create your strategy and public-private partnerships inspired compelling discussions. We offered 16 breakout “salon-style sessions” which were intentionally kept small to cultivate more intimate conversation and exchange. All thought leadership and conversations – from the mainstage to the salons – addressed the critical issues of social justice and inequality, and challenged everyone in the room to a call-for-action from philanthropy. 

As I reflect upon my eleven-year tenure as Executive Director and the evolution of the Summit, I feel we have reached a special kind of unique and compelling momentum. This incredible community, initiated from a commitment to generosity and continuous learning, has the capacity to drive meaningful change that will have lasting impact. The authentic knowledge-sharing and willingness to listen, the motivation to improve, and openness to confront some of the most difficult issues we face, gives me optimism in the future of philanthropy and our world.

Coming out of our 2019 Summit, we have worked to keep the dialogue moving ahead through our monthly outreach – videos, blogs, webinars and podcasts. Every year from 2013 – 2019, our current sponsors have returned to support the Summit along with new sponsors to whom we are all grateful. Looking ahead, it is inspiring to witness the ongoing commitment and interest to continually learn and be a part of our Philanthropy Innovation Summit community as we continue down the road to the 2021 Summit!  

The living legacy of the Philanthropy Innovation Summit is an inspiration thanks to all of you. My hope for the future of this community is that you continue to push the limits of your own assumptions and experiences. I hope you will keep coming together during the Summit and in between. Keep sharing, learning, exploring and growing. This moment and the years to come are the time of need we have been preparing for to create lasting impact. . . Our time is now.