Let's Not be Neutral Conveners

The Morris Community Foundation’s national organization is the Council on Foundations in Washington, DC.  This organization supports all types of foundations, such as family, corporate, and community, by watching out for federal regulations and issues that affect our daily activities.


Last summer the Council hired Ken Strmiska as the Director of Community Foundation Services.  Ken hails from CF life in Wisconsin and those of us from the Midwest are thrilled to have a national director who understands us!


Ken recently published a piece in our national newsletter about the convener role of community foundations.  I must confess that Ken’s thoughts are the opposite of what we’ve been saying here, but his comments articulate a new way of looking at the Foundation’s role of convener and I want to share his thoughts with you:


“In community foundation speak, I have always disdained the phrase ‘community foundations are neutral conveners.’ Perhaps you have enough time to be a neutral convener, but when I was a community foundation CEO, I wanted to use my time and organizational resources to push an agenda. That agenda came out of the community and was clearly articulated by my board of directors. Although neutral convener was appropriate language for our field 20 years ago when we were primarily grantmakers and transactional agents, it is not the future for our field.


Today, leading community foundations are action-oriented community change agents. They convene for a purpose. Convening isn’t about bringing people together; it is about moving people and communities forward on some of their most intractable issues. We convene because we know that it takes tremendous resources and many partners to make significant community change. Community foundation convening is an intensely iterative process that builds on the strengths and resources of our nonprofits, governments, donors, and other stakeholders.”


The Morris Community Foundation is proud to say that we started our convener role in 2003 with our “Challenges of the Future” series of public forums.  Over the years we have brought expert panelists to town to discuss a variety of issues such as subdivision design, local solutions for public school funding, environmental health, child care, stormwater management, and water supply.


Mr. Richard Joyce of the Grundy County Board has agreed to chair meetings around our next issue: public transportation.  We are in the process of setting a first meeting date and we have already secured the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Rural Transit Assistance Center from WIU to be panelists.


Mr. Strmiska is right: by advocating for increased and cooperative public transportation in Grundy County, we increase the quality of life for our county and its residents.  There’s no reason to be neutral about that!