Together, We Can Co-Create a Meaningful Set of Possibilities for 2023

  • By Marcus Walton (ex officio), November 28, 2022

As GEO approaches its 25-year anniversary, I am grateful to have completed three years of service within its leadership. It is impossible to contemplate a meaningful set of possibilities for a new year without considering the progress we have made together over the previous 24 years. As members of an ecosystem of philanthropic support organizations, as well as a broader global community of social impact networks, we continue to facilitate reckoning with the forces of inequity that diminish our collective thriving. Ever-present economic disparities, worsening climate disasters, threats against human rights and the freedom to make choices about our bodies – these moments and more require grantmakers to be audacious in thought and action. Yet there cannot be meaningful reckoning if we are not collectively transforming conventional markers of success or redefining what effectiveness is – and can be – for nonprofits and communities who are on the frontlines of change.

In 2022, the GEO community moved closer to realizing our shared vision of courageous grantmakers working in service of nonprofits and communities to create a just, connected and inclusive society where we can all thrive. We created resources and experiences to equip grantmakers to grapple with the complexities of implementing unfamiliar ideas into effective grantmaking practice. These shifts, which do not happen overnight, require an ecosystem mindset, demand a commitment to cultivating collective genius and involve constant reimagining of what degree of transformation is possible for the philanthropic sector, not just what is practical or efficient.

These shifts … require an ecosystem mindset, demand a commitment to cultivating collective genius and involve constant reimagining of what degree of transformation is possible for the philanthropic sector.

One of the places I witnessed these conversations converge was at GEO’s 2022 National Conference – our first in-person gathering since the start of the pandemic. Even now, as communities face threatening conditions, philanthropy is not always collectively committed to social progress. Yet, as I listened to workshops and engaged with practitioners from across the sector, it was clear that changes to the tide were – and are – happening. Some speakers reminded us that the complexities of the human experience require us to expand our perspectives as well as our approaches to developing solutions in partnership with those most impacted by issues. Others offered concrete practices for funding place-based systems change and building power for people representing the global diaspora. As a field, we are aware of the practices that have historically held back communities and, in forums such as GEO’s National Conference, we are coming together to establish a common understanding of our individual experiences. Through this process, we can open endless possibilities for nurturing and sustaining community, honoring difference and reckoning with power in ways that allow all to thrive.

I am also struck by the conversations happening in more intimate spaces, such as GEO’s Change Leaders in Philanthropy Fellowship, which continue to interrogate the organizational systems required for lasting change in our field and beyond. Trust, accountability and mutual support are among the central conditions needed for collective change. And, equipped with these competencies, we see how GEO fellows and program participants are taking what they learn back into their own organizations to make real shifts in philanthropic culture and practice. As Marisa Magallenez of Albuquerque Community Foundation noted in our Change Leaders in Philanthropy Blog Series, “We need to be relentless in asking: what do we need to do to help equity and justice prevail in this community?” I continue to extend gratitude to the GEO team and our networks of supporters who create and cultivate spaces not just for individual practice, but collective spaces for us to roll up our sleeves together.

As we look to the new year, I am excited to see how the GEO community continues to evolve within the context of the diverse populations and organizational partners we support.

Internally, the GEO staff is constantly revisiting and reinvigorating our programmatic areas in order to best support your work. I am pleased to offer a brief snapshot of a new peer community, Equitable Operations, which is planned to launch later in 2023. At GEO, we believe that tending to organizational change is a critical component of shifting philanthropic culture and practice – and one of the overlooked spaces where change can happen is in our operations teams. This peer learning community is dedicated to identifying, interrogating and shifting internal practices within human resources, finance, risk management and information technology (IT) to advance organizational change. To be able to continue to offer members these types of cutting-edge opportunities in a time of increasing costs, as well as keeping up with inflation, we are making modest adjustments to our membership contributions for 2023 and beyond.

History shows us that we cannot build a just, inclusive and connected society in isolation, nor in one fell swoop.

The connective tissue I observe across the GEO community and the broader field is an examination of what “effectiveness” is in order to bring about a new set of possibilities for transformational philanthropic practice. This requires that we move beyond our comfort zones, stretching ourselves to shift our mindsets and attitudes to develop effective plans of action. Examining what “effectiveness” is also requires that we reflect upon our past, with one foot always positioned towards the future, to move together, farther. Lastly, this examination requires that we remember our interconnectedness with each other - that our fates are shared, not separate. Despite the scope of the challenge, history shows us that we cannot build a just, inclusive and connected society in isolation, nor in one fell swoop. We need aligned partners who share values, purpose and a long-term vision for transformation.

To this end, we look ahead to 2023 with an audacious vision for what is possible, informed by the experiences of the broadest representation of the communities we serve, collectively defining effectiveness, measuring impact and designing plans of action to realize our aspirations as an empowered pluralistic, multicultural society. The past few years of struggling together has engendered a resolve within the most committed among us. I submit for your consideration that this deep, unstoppable wave rises from anyone who is committed to moving through complexity, in community, to understand what is essential for our collective thriving. As GEO approaches its 25th year, I am eager to co-create this with you.

I invite you to join us today.


Marcus Walton (ex officio)

President & CEO

Marcus F. Walton joins GEO with over a decade of practice in both nonprofit management and the ontological learning model. He specializes in operationalizing conceptual frameworks; racial equity facilitation and training; leadership and management strategy; stakeholder engagement; program development and navigating philanthropy.

In his previous role as Director of Racial Equity Initiatives for Borealis Philanthropy, Marcus lead the Racial Equity Initiatives team and worked in partnership with 18 nationally-networked, philanthropy-serving grantee organizations to move past the “transactional” nature of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to a unified movement which prioritizes strategies that close gaps in access to opportunity, resources and well-being (across all categories of gender, identity, sexual orientation, class and ability).

Before that, Marcus served as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), where he oversaw its operations, HR and staff development functions, including the overall strategy, conceptualization and administration of racial equity programming. Prior to ABFE, he combined his organizing experience and passion for public service in the role of Program Officer of Community Responsive Grantmaking with the Cleveland Foundation and Sr. Program Officer with Neighborhood Progress, Inc.

Marcus is a Newfield Network-trained ontological coach, with additional training in the Action Learning systems coaching model. He promotes coaching as a tool for personal mastery, racial equity & systems change, social sector excellence and transformation within marginalized communities.

Marcus received a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from Bowling Green State University and has continued graduate studies in public administration at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Public Policy as well as Rutgers University’s School of Public Affairs and Administration.