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When Grace and Opportunity Align

Thursday, May 3, 2018

You may have noticed over the past few months that here at the Council we’ve been sharing a lot of information regarding the 2020 Census, and how essential it is for philanthropy to recognize why a full and thorough count matters to our work. In fact, the CNJG Board of Directors has endorsed the idea of the Council acting as a champion to promote funding and adequate resources to ensure New Jersey Gets Counted. 

I believe this is another excellent example of the leadership role the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers has played throughout the last 13 years, work that I am incredibly proud of as I wrap up my tenure as your President and CEO. Time and time again, CNJG has been a driver for important conversations, research, collaboration, and resources across New Jersey, and honestly around the country. Consider how the Council applied and assimilated what we learned through our Superstorm Sandy Recovery Work to leverage the creation of the Disaster Philanthropy Playbook, the primary national tool for foundations considering strategies post-disaster. Or the impact of our research on New Jersey’s fiscal crisis, Facing Our Future, which is still considered a seminal source for policymakers and elected officials. 

When I first arrived in 2005, I was encouraged to explore the potential for creating a community foundation that would serve Camden. Three years and scores of meetings later, we secured major grant funding from the Ford Foundation to power up the launch of the Community Foundation of South Jersey. Building on that work, CNJG spearheaded a special initiative to connect funders and map grants focused exclusively on Camden, which in turn led to our first geographically-based and geographically-focused affinity groupNew Jersey Together brought together 40 very different funders for a partnership with the State Attorney General’s office - to support a pooled fund that benefited a model program working with court-involved or formerly incarcerated youth.

The list of CNJG’s work to lead the field and drive impact and change is substantial. I am most proud of the programming and experiences we were able to provide to our members with the learning journey focused on Race, Racism and the Ramifications of Philanthropy. I can’t adequately express how my heart swelled when I saw over 100 Council members at that first training with Susan Taylor Batten, President of ABFE back in December 2016, or how moving the shared experience of seeing the play American Son at George Street Playhouse was, and then discussing it afterward with colleagues.

Of course, without an amazing team and an open, reasonable Board of Directors none of this would have happened. I know at times I pushed them beyond their comfort level, but each time we navigated the risks so well. It is hard to think that folks were quite unsure about the idea of a Colloquium – which has become one of our most popular convenings. In 2013, there was also considerable concern about whether an Investment Forum would actually attract sponsors AND an audience. Looking back now it is hard to imagine given the success of both of these Signature events

With Theresa Jacks’ steady hand and gentle guidance, we have thoughtfully built substantive relationships with our Federal Senators and Congressional Representatives. One of my favorite memories is the experience of speaking at a special hearing at the US Senate with Senators Lautenberg and Menendez at the lead. I knew I had arrived when Senator Menendez pronounced my name correctly - Nina with a LONG i!

The Council’s role as a leader must continue. Whether it is championing the 2020 Census or fostering collective action to raise up communities. Philanthropy has a great responsibility to the well-being of our nation. Years ago, in my first interview for this position, I expressed my belief that it is philanthropy that gives our capitalistic society its soul. Today, after these past many years at CNJG and as I see the work being done across this state and country, that continues to ring more true than ever for me, and I suspect for many of you. 

I’ve spent over 25 years working in New Jersey. It holds a special place in my heart. What I’ve learned through the Council’s exceptional programs and the colleagues who have shared their expertise has truly been beyond my wildest dreams. I am grateful to so many of you for the support, encouragement, and dear friendship you have provided to me these last 13 years. I will miss you. I will think of you often. And I thank you.

Nina Stack, President
Council of New Jersey Grantmakers