Why the JFN Conference Matters More Than Ever

Now that I’ve had a little time for reflection, I wanted to share a few observations about the JFN conference, which was, once again, a great event.

Good people: The conference brought together a lot of good people – smart, thoughtful, hard-working and generous. I had the chance to see old friends and partners, make new ones, learn, and talk tachlis about what is succeeding, what has proven less successful and should be dropped from the list, and what we need to try. Some conversations ended with, “we need to continue this conversation back in New York.” Others ended with a “Let’s get that going –I’ll take this part, you take that part, this is going to happen.” And it will.

Family teams: I saw more parents attending the conference with their children. This shows JFN is creating the environment for generational learning, and teaching values through participation. There is a great opportunity for philanthropists and philanthropic organizations to invite more family participation. We need to actively market this additional benefit and show you can use your philanthropy to rally your family and, similarly, your business.  I brought my mom and fiancé, and we had a great time, sometimes together and sometimes independently exploring.

Younger people: It was inspiring to see how many younger members have joined JFN since last year, and how hard they are working at their efforts. I asked someone who is 34 to brief a few people in their 40s about how to launch a giving circle. I’ve already spotted someone in his early 20s who I will tap for ideas. There is tremendous potential for innovation around engagement, communication and technologies used to deliver philanthropic results – and the younger set knows it better than we do. On the opposite end – I had the chance to talk with an elder statesman about his companies, philanthropic efforts and both of our incubators that have social ventures, and what my team could learn from his experiences.  JFN is such a great platform to exchange ideas across generations, and for the older guard to think about whom they should mentor and younger leaders to seek out mentors.

Once again, a good forum to discuss additional paths to philanthropy, and benefits of philanthropy: It was great to, once again, lead a conversation about the blend of business and philanthropy. I know of a private equity firm that created a foundation to give away a percentage of the firm’s profits and bring partners closer together outside of their day-to-day work by making this a partner team activity. This brought more money to philanthropic causes and better relationships within the firm because they had something to talk about together in addition to their investments – their shared values. If we promote these tangible benefits, maybe more people will invite their colleagues and business partners to the conference next year and continue the virtuous cycle. And if we market these benefits outside of the JFN network, we’ll probably bring more resources to philanthropy overall.

Leadership Development: Leadership was a great issue to discuss at the conference. I immediately put Susan Wolf Ditkoff’s ideas to work with both our for-profit companies and the non-profits we support. I also realized that our non-profit and for-profits are already providing tremendous leadership opportunities for younger people and we should be marketing this benefit to get even more talent to the table. The reminder to mentor people, even in our busier-than-ever, get-it-done-yesterday organizations is critical. If we teach them, they’ll look out for us one day too.

It was good to have my family join. I brought my mother and fiancé along. I learned more about my mom’s decades of work for Israel (early at Hadassah, 25 years with the Israeli consulate and most art institutions you can think of), and she got to see people she’d only met on the phone. Mom was incredibly impressed by the tools we have for measurement, the young people in attendance and the appetite for risk. My fiancé, who is a social worker and special educator, had the chance to see the macro perspective and the discussions and process behind funding allocation.  She appreciated the range of topics funders handle, the sizes of organizations represented and the diverse array of people getting together to discuss issues from different perspectives. I enjoyed having them along to meet friends and partners, and to be a greater part of one of my personal passions.

Back to work.  I hope others find these observations useful. It’s time for me to get back to those commitments we made at the conference. Thank you to the JFN professional staff, lay leaders, conference organizers, speakers, and participants. The weekend was both productive and a pleasure. The combination is a blessing indeed.

Rafi Musher is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Stax Inc., a global strategy consulting firm, where he has spent nearly 20 years working with executive management teams and investment firm leadership teams to identify profit opportunities and mitigate risks on corporate growth and mergers and acquisitions; and Stax Development Corporation, which creates joint and independent for-profit ventures, including many seeking to effect sustainable, positive social impact. He is the founder of Ed.co, a social venture in education technology, helping K-12 schools streamline fundraising while increasing community engagement, and is also Founder and Chairman of Israel & Co., a 501(c)(3) organization with the mission to educate a generation of leaders about the values and global contributions Israel has to offer.