10 Questions or Less is a feature here on the Forum’s Forum in which we get to know regional association staff members a little better—their work, what drives them, and more. This week, David Biemesderfer, President & CEO at Florida Philanthropic Network.
You’re the Foundations on the Hill delegation captain for Florida. What issues do you plan on addressing with Congress this spring?
First and foremost, we plan to update members of Florida’s congressional delegation on some of the great work our members have been doing across Florida recently, and to continue to strengthen relationships between FPN, our members, and our representatives and senators. As is true with many other states, Florida has several new members of our congressional delegation, so we plan to inform these members, in particular, about FPN and how we can be a resource to help them with their work and with their constituents. Of course, we also plan to discuss the top federal-level issues that are of high importance for the field.
You served on the advisory committee for the New Ventures Initiative. Is there any one New Ventures project you can point to as a favorite?
It’s really hard to pick a “favorite.” But I will always think fondly of the New Ventures project that I helped to lead when I was at the Minnesota Council on Foundations. We were among the first group of recipients of a New Ventures grant. We used the funds to develop the Minnesota Toolkit for Giving, which was designed to educate donors about all of their charitable giving options, in an objective and user-friendly way. One of the great things about the project was that we brought together around the table – for the first time, I believe – representatives for all the key local organizations involved in reaching out to donors, including the local United Way, professional advisors, community foundations, promoters of corporate giving, and more. Several other regional associations adapted the toolkit, or pieces of the toolkit, in their own regions, which was a great example of the value of RAs and the Forum as a valued learning and sharing community.
Having worked for 10 years at the Minnesota Council on Foundations, then as a consultant in the field, and now as CEO of FPN, what changes have you seen in the Forum network over the years?
It’s been amazing to watch the RA network grow and mature since I first became involved with the group in the mid-1990s. I remember that when I first started working at MCF, everyone in the network was excited because a new email system had just been developed that allowed all the RAs to send emails to each other – in a closed network! How far we’ve come since then. RAs have become much bigger and more important players and partners in the philanthropic field and in their regions in the time I’ve been around. I’ve watched RAs get much more involved in important public policy efforts, lead key community initiatives, get much more sophisticated with their communications and technology strategies, and so much more, and the Forum has been there all the way to support, guide, and lead us.
Walk me through a typical day in the office at FPN.
The great thing about working at FPN – and I suspect this holds true for all RAs – is that there is never a typical day at the FPN office; every day is different. That’s one of the most appealing aspects of this work, at least for me. And since FPN is a relatively new RA that is growing rapidly, we are starting up a lot of things for this first time, which is invigorating. Some days we are getting ready for the next member program or webinar, other days we are meeting with top policymakers or community leaders, other days we are launching a new leadership initiative. The one constant is that we are always focused on meeting the needs of our members as effectively as possible, and always focused on building philanthropy to build a better Florida.
What’s one thing you do in your position as President & CEO that the Forum network can help with?
I have been looking to the Forum network, and will continue to look to the Forum network, for good practices and policies around board governance and member committees. As I said above, we’re a relatively new organization, so we’re still in the process of developing some new governance policies and procedures and putting more structure around our member committees. So I’m glad I have a great network like the Forum to tap into, so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
What exciting projects does FPN have coming up in 2011?
Wow. There’s so much going on it’s hard to know where to start! We have our third annual Statewide Summit on Philanthropy coming up in February 2011, and that’s always a highlight of the year for us. In February we’ll also be releasing our second annual Giving in Florida research report, which we’ve expanded from the first report. In 2011, we’ll also be starting a two-year project focused on aging as part of Grantmakers in Aging’s EngAGEment Initiative, and we’ll be continuing our strong focus on public policy work, including some education-related policy work being done by our Education Funders Affinity Group. We are engaging in many efforts to ensure that philanthropy is a much stronger and more consistent partner with policymakers on a wide range of issues in Florida. FPN also has a major programmatic focus on leadership in Florida’s philanthropic sector, and in 2011 we’re pleased to be launching the inaugural year of our Florida Philanthropy Mentoring Program, a yearlong program where we will match emerging leaders in Florida’s philanthropy field with seasoned leaders in the field, in an effort to nurture, inspire, and support the next generation of Florida’s philanthropic leaders. We just selected 10 emerging leaders for the inaugural class, and they are an incredibly talented, diverse, and inspiring group. It gives me hope for the future of our field.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m happy to have been able to reconnect with the Forum network, and I’m honored to now be serving on the Forum board. I look forward to continuing to do my part, as best I can, to make the Forum network as strong, effective and relevant as possible. In these challenging times, I think it’s more important than ever for all of us to work together as effectively as we can for the good of our field and our communities.
Have a suggestion of someone in the network you’d like to see profiled through 10 Questions or Less, contact Dan Brady.