Photo: Soccer scene at night match with close up of a soccer shoe hitting the ball with power

Philanthropy and a Soccer Ball: Reflections on SECF’s 52nd Annual Meeting

Posted on December 03, 2021 by John Ferguson, TPF Fellow 2020/21
Recently, I had the pleasure of representing The Patterson Foundation (TPF) at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Council of Foundations (SECF) in Asheville, NC. This was the first time I attended an in-person event throughout my fellowship, which was absolute heaven for a pure extrovert like myself. It was a vibrant event with high-energy plenary sessions, engaging speakers, and a wide variety of well-crafted breakout sessions addressing vital topics within philanthropy. SECF took safety precautions with the highest degree of care and intentionality to keep attendees healthy. Guests greatly appreciated the painstaking planning efforts for this event, as it resulted in a comfortable environment in which we could all authentically connect and explore ways to do our work more effectively.

As I reflect on my experience, the words of Wes Moore, the award-winning author and former CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, continue to ring in my head.

#1: A 5-year-old's Soccer Game
In a 5-year-old's soccer game, there are no complicated playbooks or trick plays. It's see the ball, kick the ball. If you aren't near the ball, run to the ball. That's it. Simple. What could become possible if we ran to critical issues with the reckless abandon of a 5-year-old soccer player? Thankfully, we would have better judgment than when we were that young, but the point remains true.

Philanthropy has the flexibility and agility to run towards whatever "ball" fits its mission and desired impact within the communities they serve. Imagine the innovation and impact that could result from running directly towards the "ball" and kicking it down the field until we reach the goalposts and score by fulfilling our missions. And the only way we can do that is to get out from behind our desks and get onto the field–which in this example would be out in the communities we serve, talking and working side-by-side with as many others who care about similar issues as possible.

#2: Our Job
Wes Moore challenged us to remember that our job is never to make ourselves bigger, but our challenges smaller. This seems like an obvious statement, but it becomes even more important to stay present to his call when we think about how competitive our society is. For me, it is a stark reminder of what becomes possible when no one cares who gets the credit. If we work together and build on previous promising practices instead of creating our own thing, we can make more impact faster. After all, it's never has been about us. It's about those we serve and the missions we all work tirelessly to fulfill for people in our communities to thrive.

Thank you, Wes Moore, and thank you, SECF, for the amazing experience and reminder that how we do our work matters just as deeply as the work itself.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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