Where's the fire?

At a conference last week, I asked a panel of new foundation leaders what surprised them the most about the philanthropic field. Kate Wolford, the new President of the McKnight Foundation had a very eloquent answer that gave me pause. She said that when she was a nonprofit CEO everything was always pressing and urgent. There was a yearly budget to be raised and programs that needed to be run effectively or else the organization might shut down or the people that they were serving would not be reached. She said that she was most surprised about the lack of urgency in the philanthropic field. I was a little shocked at first because we are all working on very pressing social issues and are under the pressure of constant deadlines. But, when you step back and look at it there really is no true sense of urgency in the field. There is no budget to be raised (community foundation aside), no stockholders that will pull their support, no constituents that won't vote for you again if you tick them off. Foundations have the leisure of time. This can be an asset when you are working on long-term community issues that need long-term solutions. But this can be a detriment when that lack of urgency turns into apathy.