The California Fires and Community Engagement (Part 4)

To read about our journey from the beginning, start here.


Week 3:
We are heading into the 3rd week of our journey. This portion of the trip will have nothing to do with fire. I am scheduled to keynote the AFP Philanthropy Day luncheon in Reno, Nevada, where I will address 300 community leaders about “Engaged Philanthropy.”

The context may be different from our two weeks with the Fire Safe Councils. And the setting may be different. But the topic – building an engaged community to effect more significant change – that seems to be the only thing that matters, wherever we go, whatever the group’s mission.

Engagement and the Arts
Our first stop in Reno is Sierra Arts, a community arts group glorifying every sense of the word “community.” The mission of Sierra Arts is to promote and support the arts in northern Nevada. But that does not begin to describe what they are and what they do.

Sierra Arts provides arts education programs in local schools.
Sierra Arts provides venues for local artists.
Sierra Arts has renovated a historic downtown building, to create housing for artists of all kinds – visual, theatrical, written, musical – you name it!

And what are the issues they share with us?

How do we engage the community in a shared sense of what the arts mean to the region? How do we engage folks in seeing that the arts are not separate from everything else, but an integral part of being human?

Engagement and Funding
From Sierra Arts, we move to a meeting with Reno’s funders. Here we learn about the changing face of this rapidly growing community. We listen to their concerns about growing philanthropy in such a rapidly changing place. We ask many of the questions we have asked in other funder forums around the country.

And the questions raised in response to our questions sound familiar.

How do we create a sense of shared responsibility for philanthropy? What could we accomplish together that we could not accomplish alone? How can we work more closely together, to effect more improvement in our community?

Substitute the word “Fire” for “Arts” or “Philanthropy” and we have the exact same questions we have heard for the past two weeks.

And in the end, it all comes down to that one word: Engagement.

Personalized email signatures often include an inspirational quote. The line from E.M. Forster’s Howards End has become a common one: “Only connect.”

We are all seeking connection, engagement. We are seeking it as individuals, and we are seeking it as organizations.

And whether we do Community Benefit work for a living, or we volunteer our time, donate our dollars, or simply attend a community meeting because we care about the future of the place we live – we know that we can accomplish far more together than any one of us can on his own.

After these past few weeks, the message I will provide for attendees of AFP Reno’s Philanthropy Day is simple: Linking arms together is the only way we can create a healthy, safe, vibrant, resilient future for our communities.

During the plenary workshop, I encourage organizations to engage with the community beyond just asking for money.

“Share resources,” I tell them. “Build upon the strengths of other organizations. Share wisdom, building on the strengths of individuals who care about your cause. And encourage everyone to share your own resources in return.”

During the luncheon keynote, I encourage business people to engage with the organizations they already support financially.

“You have more to share than just your dollars,” I tell them. “Share your experience and your contacts. Leverage the dollars you are already investing by adding the connection and engagement that can turn those dollars into ACTION!”

And then I encourage funders to not just give out money, but to help provide community infrastructure for convening, for sharing information.

“You already have the connections with everyone doing the work on the ground. Convene them. Work and learn alongside them. Leverage the dollars you are already investing by adding your ability to connect, to convene, to engage.”

We all want healthy, vibrant places to live. We all know it will take all of us together to make that happen.

Only connect.

Read the Final Installment here

Photo credit: Dimitri Petropolis

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