I remember sitting at Con Hogan’s kitchen table, almost 10 years ago, as he succinctly explained how he had pioneered the then-radical concepts of government accountability and measurable outcomes as Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services. We were at his farm in Plainfield, I was the nascent Executive Director of the Permanent Fund for Vermont Children, a supporting foundation of the Vermont Community Foundation, and Con was my board member. A couple diagrams sketched on the back of a piece of paper, and – bam! – he illustrated the nationally recognized outcomes work that still drives so many people and organizations around world today to improve the well-being of their citizenry.
Con’s innovative ideas and his focused determination to get results transformed the largest agency in state government and improved well-being for every Vermonter, but, in typical fashion, he credited everyone else for the miracles he wrought, including, not in order, the Republican and Democratic governors under whom he served, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, other forward-thinking state government staff, and the non-profits who do good work every day in their communities.
That day, Con challenged me to figure out how to apply those concepts of accountability and measurable outcomes to philanthropy. He somehow managed to both set the bar fantastically high, yet also supported me as I struggled to reach it — meaning that I was fortunate enough to count Con as my mentor, as do so many others around the country.
In the ensuing years, we developed a tradition of carpooling to Permanent Fund board meetings. In theory, this meant that we met at the Berlin park and ride, and I drove us to the site visits and board meetings we held around the state, from nonprofit board rooms to prison visiting rooms. In practice, this meant that we launched into fiery debates on human services, corrections policy, and how to create sustainable change with private grantmaking as soon as our seat belts were buckled, and an hour later, one of us would eventually look out the window and say, “Where the heck are we?” as we bumped down some back road, with me having completely lost track of the directions I had so carefully composed in advance. (Truthfully, when we realized we were lost, the language was far more colorful than that, and typically included one of Con’s multitudes of euphemisms, that I often crossed my fingers hoping to hear. “A pig with a Waltham watch” is one of my favorites.) We became infamous for being the first to leave home for board meetings, and the last to arrive.
Con’s guidance sticks with me today. Five years ago, when I was doing feasibility testing in advance of starting Forward Philanthropy, I again asked for Con’s advice. He encouraged me to move forward to found this philanthropic advising firm — well, no, it wasn’t really encouragement, he gave me no choice but to press the “go” button. “Vermont needs this! Heck, philanthropy needs this!” he insisted. After that little mentoring session, there was no going back: Con is a force to be reckoned with.
So, it is a marvelous tribute for the Vermont Community Foundation to launch the “Con Hogan Award for Creative, Entrepreneurial, Community Leadership”. Please join me in making a gift to the VCF to support the award of $15,000 to a mid-career community leader with Con Hogan’s vision and commitment to making a difference, results, and community connection. And, come see the inaugural award being presented to the amazing Ellen Kahler, of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, on Thursday, October 8, 4:00 – 6:00, at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier (click to RSVP). I am sure it will be an inspiring event, but I just wish that the criteria for the award had included the ability to employ well-timed euphemisms.