I’m currently in my second year of a two-year fellowship at the Nord Family Foundation. The purpose of the fellowship is to learn more about the field of philanthropy, serve as a program officer, and to prepare for a future in the nonprofit sector. During the week of March 3, 2014, at the persuasion of my Executive Director John Mullaney, I had the privilege of participating in my first Foundations on the Hill along with other colleagues from Philanthropy Ohio. The reason John needed to persuade me was due to skepticism I share about politics.
ICYMI: There is a newly released study on how Millennials are “deeply confused” about politics. As a 26 year old, I, too, fit into this category with my generation. However, my hope is that other generations don’t view us as disinterested, politically ignorant, or that our only reference of politics is through CNN and watching House of Cards on Netflix. But rather, in this age of information, my hope is that Millennials are understood as more aware of politician hypocrisy, more understanding of the complexity of issues and less willing to think “black-and-white” on grey issues.
* Stepping down from the Soap Box
Before we headed to the Hill we heard passionate speeches from a number of different people representing government, foundations, nonprofits and business, but all with the same powerful message: protect and promote the charitable sector. Some of the speakers shared viewpoints that echoed some of the familiar rhetoric that many of my peers tend to tune out. But, some of the more compelling presentations came from the nonprofit organizations we partner with everyday through philanthropy that are trying to solve the world’s problems. These organizations shared their testimonies from the front line on the impact policy has on nonprofits and the damages that can be done by disincentivizing charitable giving. These latter presenters energized and further enlightened me to the importance of why we were heading to the Hill. While on the Hill I met with over 10 representatives over a two-day span but the most memorable for me was our first meeting.
Our first meeting was with Republican Senator Rob Portman. Our conversation with him was very easygoing and he made it clear that he was in support of protecting the charitable sector. The conversation was almost too easy for me so after we took our photo with him and were about to head to our next meeting I stopped and asked him:
“As a young man trying to decide which side of the aisle (I wanted to say Great Wall of China) to align with as I move forward in life… seeing that I am passionate about my faith and almost equally passionate about social justice, what would be your advice?”
Senator Portman gave me a sincere look and said that being Republican doesn’t mean that you can’t be involved in social justice and he referenced his work on ending sex trafficking; he ended his statement by saying that the party needed more young people and diversity and asked me to follow up with him. I don’t know if his speech was inspiring enough for me to choose which side of this Great Wall of Washington I pledge allegiance to, but it definitely was thought provoking and has been on my mind.
So after meeting with Senator Portman I didn’t ask any other politicians that question but I was very impressed at the number of representatives willing to hear our story. Some of our meetings were conversational and others were presentational, sometimes to stone faces. However, I had an All-Star team with me that really understood how to navigate things, break the ice and be very passionate and informative about why we were there.
After it was all over someone asked me would I do it again? I most certainly would and I think there should be more foundations and nonprofits joining along with us as well. I’m looking forward to the years ahead going to Foundations on the Hill and continuing to advocate on behalf of those we serve.
Here are some of my Tweetable thoughts from DC: Follow me @FrankWhitfield
· @BarryDoggett knows everyone, he must live in D.C. & @ClaudiaHerrold is like the @HilaryClinton of Philanthropy. She gets things done!
· Does every man in D.C. (young and old) have grey hair? #notetoself #stressincluded
· @Capitol Hill hallways look like a college campus. @representativeaides = extensions of Reps. Brains. #Millennials fuel D.C.!
· #Notetoself when in D.C. wear comfortable shoes #walkingincluded
· Glad to be in D.C. advocating for a bi-partisan and noncontroversial topic: philanthropy. Many of the Reps. say we are the easiest conversation and a #BreathofFreshAir
· @OHIO Birthday Parties are where the political deals get made!
Next year @Philanthropy we need to offer something to be remembered by! Maybe free hugs in the name of “love for humanity.”