Mapping success in New Jersey

New Jersey residents navigate a rich landscape of mountains, rivers and lakes, beaches and open space, in addition to the densely populated urban centers connected by the turnpike that is more often noted by late-night pundits and outsiders. New Jerseyans also navigate a wholly new “mobile” landscape via their smart phones and tablets.

In the wake of the economic downturn, the challenge for everyone including New Jersey’s nonprofit and philanthropic sectors is to do better than just staying the course. And better yet, how best to seize the moment and innovate wholly new ways of doing business whereby everyone flourishes. This topic was particularly on the minds of this year’s attendees at the annual meeting of the New Jersey Association of Museums held at the Newark Museum this past Monday, June 11. CEOs Chris Daggett of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Hans Dekker of the Community Foundation of New Jersey led the town hall discussion. In her welcome, Newark Museum director Mary Sue Sweeney-Price told the audience that in the museum’s new long-range strategic plan, accessibility was still the key driver of the museum’s mission.

Hans Dekker opened the discussion by noting the new megatrends, such as the way in which individual giving has become more “Ebay-esque,” because donors can now seek out as well as customize giving in ways that let them know almost instantaneously the impact their dollars are making. Chris Daggett agreed that technology has indeed changed the face of philanthropy and noted that, although people pursue specific interests, they also seek out others who share their interests to form “communities” around those shared interests. Although these communities are often virtual, people still look for what author Alan Weiss calls “high touch,” or personal interaction to offset the negative ramifications of high tech.

Along these lines, Daggett noted the rise in volunteerism as well as the impact of storytelling. People are still engaged by the telling of compelling stories. Both funders agreed that this is a time particularly ripe for “trial and error,” for looking for new and innovative ways to collaborate and for opening the doors to communication for such collaboration. In the philanthropic arena, the challenge is educating government officials about philanthropy’s role so that government policies can help reinforce its positive impact in a community. For cultural institutions, it is about enhancing the civic pride of their constituents along with demonstrating the impact cultural and social capital can have on neighboring businesses and even multinational corporations.

As Jeana Wirtenberg, author of Building a Culture of Sustainability recently noted, navigating the new landscape calls for leadership skill sets that include “new kinds and levels of collaboration, co-opetition, networking, navigating ambiguity, agility, and resilience.*” When it comes to navigating ambiguity with agility and resilience, nonprofits and their philanthropic partners clearly have the edge—it’s just what they do best and with aplomb.

*Wirtenberg, J. “Triple-Bottom-Line: This Is Leadership Development 3.0,” in Leadership Excellence, June 2012.

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