10 Questions or Less for George Espy


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,  George Espy, President of Ohio Grantmakers Forum. If you would like to suggest someone for a profile through 10 Questions or Less, contact Dan Brady.

As the architect of the Four for the Forum campaign, how do you think this initiative will change the Forum network? How has it changed the network already?

Three years ago, the strategic planning committee re-affirmed our roots by articulating the concept of the Forum as an interconnected “network” of regional associations. For a while, and for reasons that made sense at the time, the Forum had emphasized its own independence as a separate organization that provided support etc. for the RAs. The “forum as network” concept took us back to where we began and reasserts the primacy of the Forum network, with the Forum staff serving as the coordinating and connecting hub. If the Forum network is going to accomplish its mission of leadership and service we are going to have to rely on the “sweat equity” from the regionals, since we won’t have the staff to do it for us. The “Four for the Forum” campaign was simply an attempt to reinforce the network concept in a concrete way. How are we doing? If you compare volunteer activity across the network today vs. what it was a few years ago, we will find good reason to celebrate. By sharing time and resources, we are well on our way toward realizing the aspiration of becoming a vital, interconnected, national network of regional associations.

Speaking of Four for the Forum, as Board Chair you’ve probably contributed about Four Thousand for the Forum. Is there a particular achievement at the Board level that stands out to you during your term?

Anyone who has the honor of serving as board chair of the Forum puts in their share of volunteer hours. I am particularly pleased with having played a role in helping the Forum successfully reinvent itself. We are becoming a much stronger network and are beginning to position ourselves – individually and collectively – to play a significant role in the changing infrastructure of philanthropy.

You’ve also worked the Forum’s relationship with many of the philanthropic infrastructure groups. How do the network principles we’ve embraced apply not only to the Forum as an association of regional associations, but also as a member of the larger philanthropy field?

Because we are an interconnected network of regional associations, with members representing all types and interests of philanthropy, reaching every part of the country, we occupy a very strong position in the infrastructure. We are “closer to the ground” than anyone else, with a staff of 200+. We model the collaboration others talk about; are flexible, responsive and incredibly creative. We don’t just talk about helping increase the effectiveness of philanthropy; we do it every day with our more than 4000 members. It’s time we stopped selling ourselves short. There’s a bright future ahead of us.

Having worked for more than 10 years at Ohio Grantmakers Forum, what changes have you seen in the field over the years?

As with every other part of life, change is the only constant in our field. In the last decade the infrastructure has grown to the point where it is overbuilt and unsustainable. At the same time, the baby-boomers are beginning to move on and a whole new generation of leaders is emerging, many of whom are unfamiliar with the field and the infrastructure that supports it. At the same time, the field itself is changing, with the creation of new forms of philanthropy, not yet served by anyone. All of this puts pressure on RAs and other support organizations to adapt to these changing conditions or face the prospect of becoming irrelevant and extinct.

In your role as President of Ohio Grantmakers Forum, how does the Forum network contribute to your work?

The Forum network is the only group of people who really understand what I do, the challenges I face, the small victories I celebrate, and the professional needs I have. Since we aren’t in competition with one another, we can and do share freely and often with one another. This network has been my primary resource for professional development, networking and friendship. It has been indispensable to my work here at OGF.

Is there anything you’re working on now that is particularly exciting?

I continue to be excited by the impact that foundations can have on community issues through involvement in public policy advocacy. Most of our members fund locally with support for organizations that help improve the quality of life in their communities. Over the last 6 years we have discovered that it’s possible for funders to increase their effectiveness and have even greater impact on the issues they care about joining together to advocate for public policy changes in those areas. OGF’s education initiative, funded by 30+ members, and approved annually by our board, has played a significant role in helping reform education policy in OH and thus improves the public schools in every community across the state. Not only that, this work has greatly enhanced OGF’s visibility and leadership role in the state. This, in turn, has opened doors with the business, academic, and nonprofit communities across the state. We’ve been successful with both democrat and republican administrations and legislatures; and our members love it! I can’t figure out why more RAs aren’t moving ahead on this front.

Outside of work, what are you passionate about?

Is there a world outside of work?

You recently announced that you are retiring in the next few months. Do you have any parting words?

Thanks for all your help and friendship.

Anything else we should know?

I hope to find some way to stay involved in the future, so hopefully – from my perspective anyway – our paths will cross again.

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