BY Pat Smith, President & CEO

How will I measure the more than five years I’ve been with The Funders Network?

In months? (67.)
In days? (2,020.)
By Zoom meetings? (Too many to count.)

However you do the math, the truth is my time with TFN can’t be quantified by any simple calculation.

And this network — its members and partners, its team of staff and contractors, its mission-driven work — is so much more than the sum of its parts.

As I wrap up my final day at TFN, I’m grateful for what we’ve accomplished together in the last five years: The network is a thriving and robust community of funders and allies that has grown — both in size, scope and resources — since I joined its ranks on July 2, 2018.

We’ve worked to explicitly center racial equity in all of our many programs and partnerships. We’ve created space for funders, both at in-person events and virtual learning sessions, to better understand and explore the connection between their specific funding areas and the systemic inequities that stand in the way of true progress. We’ve deepened our engagement with experts and advocates in the social sector to share opportunities for action and collaboration.

But I’m also humbled by the work that still needs to be done.

The Road Ahead

While TFN’s commitment to racial equity is foundational and cross-cutting, we can’t ignore that the values of diversity, equity and inclusion — the very tools needed to build a just and liberated future — are under assault.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn affirmative action in higher education, as well as legal and political broadsides attacking DEI programs in classrooms and boardrooms, worries me deeply.

I encourage you, as funders and allies deeply committed to the communities you serve, to use your collective voices — and institutional resources — to double down on the need to embed racial equity in your grantmaking.

Philanthropic decisions should include the voices of the people and communities most affected by structural racism, including those on the front lines of the climate crisis and those facing increasingly steep barriers to economic opportunity and mobility.

TFN member organizations have the power to advocate for policy change, fund research, convene changemakers, and amplify the lived experiences of those most impacted by systemic harm.

Together, you have the power to advance intersectional solutions that can help undo decades of disinvestment and under-resourcing in Black, Indigenous and other communities of color.

This work is critical to TFN’s mission, which is to leverage philanthropy’s unique potential to help create communities and regions that are sustainable, prosperous, healthy and just for all people.

That’s why it is essential that we, as a network and as a sector, must foster generations of courageous philanthropic leaders who are engaged, emboldened and equipped to bring about a just society.

I am honored to pass the baton to my colleague, TFN’s incoming President & CEO Dion Cartwright, who has proven herself to be both bold and courageous. Since my first day at TFN more than five years ago, I’ve known Dion to be an advocate for change in the philanthropic sector and one of the driving forces behind TFN’s explicit commitment to racial equity.

Heartfelt Thanks

I’m grateful to Dion and the rest of TFN’s talented team for their dedication and camaraderie over the past five years, including the challenges and disruptions we all faced at the height of the pandemic.

I’m also grateful for the counsel, support and leadership of TFN’s Board of Directors and our funder-led steering committees — and the countless other funders and partners who have volunteered their time in service of our mission.

And while I’ve promised myself (and my partner, Elbert) that I’ll try to embrace a Zoom-free future in my retirement, please know that you can always find me  on LinkedIn.

I’m excited and hopeful to see what the future has in store for TFN.

Wishing you all a wonderful Martin Luther King Jr. Day and a joyful and just 2024.


Visits TFN Instagram to see some of our favorite memories of Pat’s tenure.