In the midst of the judging for A2A Live!, which was my first exposure to the world of the Harwood Institute, I was facilitating three listening sessions at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. As a self-proclaimed philanthropy nerd, it is always interesting for me to hear about what different players in the philanthropic ecosystem share, what they view differently, and where the difference of perceptions is making impacts.
On the surface, the three groups were quite different. The first was professional advisors and donors, the second local foundation executives, the last local nonprofit executives and staff. If you follow the philanthropy news outlets (or if you’ve ever facilitated groups of competing leadership of any kind), you might be laughing at the idea that I would be able to write a report that would honor the feedback of these groups and still provide productive action items. But your laughter wouldn’t give enough credit to the fact that we all have at least a few things in common.
It is custom, at The Patterson Foundation, to begin a meeting with a “question of the day” to encourage the building of a personal connection before the business topics get underway. So, in the spirit of kicking off an hour with total strangers, each session started with a question. For two groups, the question was, who is a hero – real or fiction – that inspires you?
First, a big shout out to mothers everywhere as you all rank very high on the hero chart for your adult children. Secondly, when looking at who inspires our work, we have a lot in common. By starting the sessions off with these commonalities in mind, “shared aspirations” as the Harwood Institute says, rise more easily to the surface.
I’ll attend the Harwood Institute Public Innovator Virtual Labs beginning in September. There are sure to be new ways to better engage and #TurnOutward, but even without the training, by approaching discussions with the goal of discovering shared aspirations, commonalities become easier to identify and barriers more easily navigated.

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