Hello, I’m Ben Starrett, president and CEO of the Funders’ Network.

It’s great to see so many friends here. It’s especially great to see so many new friends who are joining us this year for the first time.
Let me begin by acknowledging the tremendous support for this year’s conference from our funders.

The leadership of our conference co-chairs and their designees also has been invaluable. I want to thank Phil Henderson and Shawn Escoffrey from Surdna, Kate Wolford and Eric Muschler of McKnight, and Eric Jolly and Carrie Jo Short of the Saint Paul Foundation — and all of our other sponsors.  We simply couldn’t have done this without your help.

TFN’s annual conference is our most important member service. This conference also gives us a chance to highlight your amazing work.
Hosting a conference of this scale is truly a team effort. As always, the TFN team rose to the challenge. The team also includes the many volunteers who helped design conference sessions, shared their wisdom, and will lead our mobile workshops.

One of the hallmarks of a TFN conference is the opportunity to learn from place. Here are a few of the many ways we’re learning from place in the Twin Cities:

• If you were lucky enough to get a spot on our pre-conference tour on Sunday — which was filled to max! — you learned how artists are leading equitable  development in their neighborhoods.

• Later today, you’ll have a chance to explore more of the Twin Cities thanks to our six mobile workshops.

• And later this evening I hope to see everyone at our very popular EAT Here! Reception.  It will be a great evening. I want to thank the team at the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders for their 15 years of support for our EAT Here! Reception.

This is the first TFN Annual Conference since the presidential election. I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm our belief that now is the time for philanthropy to live up to its highest ideals and demand that our country creates inclusive and sustainable places to live and work for everyone. TFN is committed to nonpartisan but forward-looking approaches that advance sustainability, prosperity, resiliency, and equity and inclusion.

We designed this conference for you to engage with each other and leaders in philanthropy and other fields about the challenges and opportunities on the road ahead.
And we’ll end our conference with a closing plenary by a retired Marine who has helped craft a strategic narrative that places sustainability at the heart of our nation’s security and well being. And he’s the first Top Gun graduate we’ve ever had as a plenary speaker!

TFN is advancing sustainability, prosperity, and resiliency, in many ways. Here are just three examples:

• Our Partners for Places matching grants program has provided and leveraged more than eight million dollars in communities across North America to support innovative sustainability projects.

• Our Older Industrial Cities and Anchor Institutions programs are working toward prosperity in places where we know there is untapped potential and tremendous opportunity for inclusive economic development.

• Our Philanthropic Preparedness, Resiliency, and Emergency Partnership — or PPREP for short — is connecting and supporting 17 community foundations across the Midwest. Many of our PPREP participants are here with us today!

Equity and inclusion are foundational values of TFN. They’re embedded throughout all of our work. Looking ahead, we are working on a learning curriculum for funders on structural racism and inequality. Stay tuned in May for more information on this new 18-month learning series.

And I’m very proud that TFN’s staff and board are an incredibly diverse group of individuals who truly represent the many faces of America.

One of the programs we are most proud of is our PLACES fellowship, a year-long experience that gives leaders in philanthropy the tools they need to ensure the values of inclusion and equity are reflected in the work they do. We already have nearly 100 PLACES alumni who have gone through this fellowship. This year, we had a record number of applications for our 2017 cohort. You’ll meet many of our new PLACES fellows — and many PLACES alumni — at the conference.

We all know that there are no easy answers when we are looking at problems that stem from structural racism and inequality, which include obstacles to education, healthcare, affordable housing, economic prosperity, and opportunity in its many forms. But those difficult answers only come if we are willing to ask ourselves difficult questions:

• Are we thinking creatively about how we can change systems?

•  Are we breaking down silos and fostering collaboration?

• Are we working in ways that are interdisciplinary and intersectional?

•  Are we demanding accountability and more equitable outcomes?

• And are we the best allies and advocates we can be?

I believe that if you’ve taken the time to attend this conference, the answer is a resounding YES!

All of us here at TFN are equally committed to this hard but important work. We are working to support collaboration within and across TFN’s working groups and we are working closely with our colleague affinity groups to leverage opportunities for positive change. We’ll continue to offer meaningful programming and networking opportunities that will position TFN as a true hub for learning and collaboration — bringing together national, regional and community funders, and other key players in philanthropy.

Because TFN is exactly that. A network where funders join together to strengthen relationships, forge new bonds, and increase their impact.

Remember, this is your network. The more you put into it, the more you will get back from it.

Thank you,
Ben Starrett, president and CEO, Funders’ Network