1.  So much about nonprofit organizations is broken: the inordinate amount of time spent hustling small amounts of money; the drag on time and resources from ineffective boards; the effort required for the care and feeding of internal systems (finance, IT, HR)—all of this taking time away from essential programmatic work.  How do we go about reinventing the nonprofit so as to avoid these pitfalls?

2.  Many of us have discussed alternative models of governance for nonprofit organizations.  How do we get the field to embrace them?  How do we bridge the disconnect between the way EDs view their boards and the way boards see themselves?

3.  How much social change can “social change philanthropy” really tolerate?

4.  How do we keep nonprofit advocacy from becoming a “random walk” through a host of unconnected tactics?  How can we best harness the tools from other disciplines (for example, systems theory) to devise effective social change strategies?

5.  What lessons, drawn from history, can we apply to efforts to reform the work of foundations and make them more accountable?  (I’m thinking, at present, of the Reverend Leon Sullivan and his work in combating apartheid.  But there are other good models.)

6.  If the unexamined life is not worth living, then the unexamined career is not worth pursuing.  How do we create opportunities for reflection and discussion about our work?  How do we democratize the discussion in our field, shifting it from heavily scripted exercises in message discipline to inclusive free-for-alls brimming with intellectual and spiritual energy? 

7.  Most foundations are Web 0.5 organizations in a Web 2.0 world.  How do we rethink and reinvigorate the enterprise using all that we’ve learned about new technologies and their likely course?  What are the possibilities for collaborative work and for reducing the burden on applicants and grantees?  How can new technologies catalyze discussions that will lead to breakthroughs in our thinking about foundation and nonprofit work?

8.  How do we turn philanthropy from a stodgy financial transaction into something that’s life- and world-changing?  How do we capture a significant fraction of the anticipated intergenerational transfer of wealth for philanthropic purposes?

9.  There’s a story about a Hawaiian medicine man who had a special talent for calling back souls that had been separated from their bodies.  He would seize a wandering spirit, then struggle with it until he managed to align its insteps with the insteps of the body it had recently abandoned.  The medicine man would then work his way upward, reanimating first the legs, then the torso and arms, and finally the head—the way one might seal a Ziplock bag.  Is the soul of philanthropy wandering?  How can we call it back, seize it, and use it to reanimate the body of foundation work?  What should the enterprise be about?

10.  How do we make sure we hear from younger people in our field and tap the new energy and ideas that they bring to our work?  How can we most effectively hear from people of color and other groups underrepresented in mainstream philanthropy?  How do we attract good people to the nonprofit field and keep them there?


Albert Ruesga is Vice President for Programs and Communications at the Meyer Foundation in Washington, DC.  He’s the editor of the White Courtesy Telephone blog.