One year in – Lessons in Philanthropy, Community, and Leadership

As I inch toward my one-year anniversary as President and CEO of The Miami Foundation, this much I know is true: We are not the same people we were 365 days ago.  

We faced an avalanche of crises, one after the other, head on, until even the most sensitive of us became numb. It is hard not to be “zoomed out” at this point both literally and figuratively, searching for the end of the ride. We are not the same. 

We have questioned the integrity of our most trusted institutions. The security of our democracy. The authenticity of our promise of equality and opportunity for all. The safety of our food supply. We saw inflexible industries change their tune in the blink of an eye, and strange bedfellows find their way toward collaborations because there just was no other way. No, my friends, we are not the same. 

And while we saw the universe turn upside down, we have barely had time to catch our breaths and learn the lessons staring back at us. This letter is a time capsule of sorts, capturing some of the lessons of this past year so that, perhaps, when things calm down, we will remember what we saw, what we did, and how it changed us. Knowing that the Foundation anchors itself in three pillars: Leadership, Community, and Philanthropy, I’ve captured a few of the most poignant lessons in those three waves. 


It was a year of urgent, deliberate generosity. In the face of extreme circumstances, we saw many philanthropists suspend their typical policies, allowing for increased flexibility, trust, and speed. We also saw heightened consideration of equity in giving, and strategic partnerships between philanthropists and civic leaders to unlock pots of funds for the community and bring together efforts that might otherwise not get off the ground. Reflecting on the direct and tangible impact of these choices, we are encouraged to continue these changes long after COVID-19 has passed.  

For us at The Miami Foundation, this year was liberating. Increased need pushed us to find “leverage points” where we could unlock opportunities that might otherwise be lost to our community, or that would create philanthropic domino effects. We partnered with our County in drawing down significant resources for local nonprofits. We leveraged our purchasing power to access resources for nonprofits when supply chain issues were causing prices to skyrocket. We found ways to go both big and small, fueling system level solutions while also identifying and supporting grassroots leaders at the forefront of our region’s recovery. 

Similarly, our Racial Equity Fund became a learning ground for us to make bold value-based decisions that would impact our entire philanthropic strategy. Through lessons learned from that fund we ultimately made changes to our other grant programs to become more inclusive, to reduce barriers to entry, and to ultimately support organizations with increased trust for their knowledge on the ground. We also identified several large philanthropic gaps, and worked to bring donors together to solve bold needs like bringing internet to every child in Miami. These choices continue to inspire us, and the learning will continue. 


At a time punctuated by distance, it became more important than ever to prioritize relationships. Change moves at the speed of trust, and in order to build authentic connections, we saw both grantors and grantees do more listening than ever before. This led to healthier power dynamics, increased flow of resources, and a stronger social impact on our community overall. 

For us at the Foundation, this was a year focused on the power of building together. Listening to the aspirations and perspectives of more than 600 nonprofits this year, we had access to the greatest asset of all: the wisdom of our community.  

We led several collective impact efforts focused on bringing organizations, civic leaders, businesses, and philanthropists together to solve things in ways they couldn’t by themselves. Miami Connected, bringing internet to all students and families, Labor Miami, a digital department of labor and opportunity for Greater Miami, and Music Access Miami, bringing the power of music to every student in Miami, are examples, and we are proud to house and co-invest in many others. Through our grantmaking programs, we began bringing donors together to create shared power and to learn from one another. We also began ecosystem mapping and capturing shareable content from our grantees to help others learn from the incredible wealth of knowledge coming in to our Foundation. 


Many books will be written on the leadership choices of this past year. How did we adapt? How did we live out our values in the face of great strain? And how well did we integrate the lessons of our nation’s most painful confrontations? We need not look too far to capture leadership lessons – all of us relied on the strength of our healthcare workers and teachers, and our concept of essential work was re-examined as we saw all of the ingredients necessary for a functioning society. Indeed, we all led this year, in our homes and in our workplaces, and in the end, perhaps we will value each other more clearly for the web that we are – each of us impacting the other profoundly.  

For us at the Foundation, this was a year of action. These principles are our not-so-secret playbook, and we know the lessons will continue with every bold new step we take. 

Indeed, we are not the same people we were 365 days ago. We have seen things we cannot unsee. We have taken risks and learned lessons that will remain with us long after this pandemic has released us from its hold. And as I turn the page on our first year together, I remain in deep gratitude for what we have experienced together. Our Foundation family – our team, our board, our nonprofit and community partners, our donors and fundholders, our civic partners, our friends – we are stronger together, and it is an honor to build a stronger, more equitable Miami with you.  

Rebecca Fishman Lipsey is President and CEO of The Miami Foundation.



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