Held in Scottsdale, Arizona April 28 to May 1


With the Camelback Mountains behind us, a clear blue desert sky above, and surrounded by the beautifully manicured grounds of the Westin Kierland Scottsdale, 12 social sectors leaders joined us for Conversation 2009. We came together in search of some respite from our respective professional treadmills and the desire for more critical thinking and a deeper dialogue about philanthropy and the future.

Four topics provided the framework for original essays submitted in advance and for the ensuing conversation. Our first two discussions explored "Re-imagining the Future of Philanthropy" and "Demonstrating and Communicating the Impact of Philanthropy." Central observations included:

  1. The two most important and uncertain driving forces are the length and impact of the recession on the economy and the levels of innovation and collaboration in philanthropy. How these forces combine may produce a significant sea change in society and in philanthropy.
  2. Generational personality differences are fundamentally important to understanding how donors and volunteers will reshape philanthropy in the coming decades.
  3. A renewed belief that we must ask "should we" rather than simply "can we" as we seek to discern the right solutions and harness the power and energy of philanthropy.
  4. Impact is greatest when there is authentic alignment with our hearts, values, and missions coupled with the courage to ask what are the highest and best uses of philanthropy.

Our final two discussions moved to "New Perspectives on Leadership" and "Philanthropy in a Systems Context." Among the powerful ideas that emerged were the following:

  1. Leaders are the bridge between vision and action, between being and doing. They liberate people, create community, and foster trust, a shared identity, and coherence.
  2. Multi-institutional systems and any organizational system tends to exhibit constant tension between negative and positive recurring loops of behavior. Finding the right place to intervene in the system can break the negative reinforcing loop, bringing greater alignment and new opportunities for philanthropy.
  3. Who leaders determine comprise their "first team" largely determines the freedom and their capacity to have a more strategic and integrated conversation that fosters change.

Many personal comments by participants affirmed the value of the gathering (see below). Among them, one person felt Conversation 2009 had reinforced the sense of philanthropy as a noble professional. Another individual likened the learning and professional transformation to the result of studying Zen: "Before studying Zen, a man was a man and a mountain was a mountain. After studying Zen, a man was a man and a mountain was a mountain. The difference is that I now view each with my feet a few inches off the ground."

The rich and diverse talent in the room made for a truly insightful gathering. Without question, the Conversation mandala created by Ken Hubbell in real time during our discussion became a visual map of our discussion and a great opportunity to see the connectivity of ideas.


From left to right, Conversation 2009 participants are:

  • Mary Reinders - Reinders Research (Wsconsin)
  • Yvonne McCoy - Gary Hubbell Consulting (Wisconsin)
  • Susan Ruddy - Providence Alaska Foundation (Alaska)
  • Marv Baldwin - Foods Resource Bank (Illinois)
  • Megan Olson - University of Alaska-Anchorage (Alaska)
  • Bruce Karstadt - American Swedish Institute (Minnesota)
  • Joe Zanetta - Providence Little Company of Mary Foundation (California)
  • Shari Lynn Scales  - George Fox University (Oregon)
  • Pearl Veenema - Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation (Ontario)
  • Ken Bartels - Elmhurst College (Illinois)
  • Ken Hubbell - Ken Hubbell & Associates (Arkansas)
  • Cathy Girard - Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin (Wisconsin)
  • Tom Soma - Ronald McDonald House Charities (Oregon)
  • Gary Hubbell - Gary Hubbell Consulting (Wisconsin)

Participant Perspectives on Conversation 2009:

"Conversation is an investment in one's personal and professional development. How often do you get time to think, explore ideas with learned colleagues across the sector and come away with a collection of reflective essays you will want to keep handy for those days when inspiration is needed. Gary Hubbell Consulting convenes and facilitates an excellent and memorable Conversation."
Pearl Veenema, President & CEO, Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation, Hamilton, ON, Canada

"A powerful few days, filled with insights, humor, and thoughtful dialogue, creating a most unique experience."
Ken Bartels, VP College Relations, Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, IL

"Warm, gracious people committed to a deep and meaningful inquiry and a framing challenge that created a collective shift in perceptions of what is crucial and still untapped in the field of philanthropy."
Ken Hubbell, Founder and Creative Director, Ken Hubbell & Associates, Little Rock, AR

"Gary Hubbell Consulting does it again! Conversation '09 was a thoroughly invigorating experience, bringing together the minds and hearts of non-profit leaders at the top of their fields. There is much to be gained in critically thinking, together and out-loud, to build the bridge that will help philanthropy cross into the future and create deeper impact across the generations."
Shari Lynn Scales, VP of Advancement, George Fox University, Newberg, OR

"Conversation 2009 exceeded my high expectations--by a long shot! Writing a position paper on an issue of interest was a wonderful opportunity and challenge at this stage of my career. Using it as a "jump-off" to what turned out to be some of the most stimulating dialogue in which I've ever engaged on non-profit issues, challenges, and future direction was truly invigorating. I really appreciated the investment and engagement of all the participants--and the immediate trust that developed among us. Brilliant idea--excellent execution!"
Tom Soma, Executive Director, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Oregon and SW Washington, Portland, OR

"An extraordinary opportunity to participate in thought-provoking, mind-opening, and stimulating conversation about philanthropy with a small group of wonderful people. You will reflect on the substance for days -- maybe months -- and you will have a "tribe" of colleagues and friends with whom you will want to continue conversation long after the Conversation is over."
Susan Ruddy, President, Providence Alaska Foundation, Anchorage, AK

"Gary and Ken Hubbell have a way of accessing important information that helps organizations and individuals get to the heart of matters. I would suggest that this conference was powerful because of the thought that each of us had to put in ahead of time to plan and write on the topics that were provided."
Marv Baldwin, President & CEO, Foods Resource Bank, Chicago, IL

Conversation 2009 essays