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PEAK Grantmaking

A Conversation Between PEAK’s Past and Present Leaders

25 YEARS OF PEAK

A Conversation Between PEAK’s Past and Present Leaders

At PEAK Grantmaking’s 2021 Annual Meeting, President and CEO Satonya Fair and former Executive Director Michelle Greanias connected to reflect on the pivotal moments in PEAK’s history and share aspirations for the organization’s next chapter.

Satonya Fair: So this is absolutely fantastic, Michelle, to be spending some time with you. Thank you so much. You’ve been very supportive in the foreground and background as we prepare for PEAK’s celebration of our 25th anniversary. So thank you so much for joining us today.

Michelle Greanias: Thanks for including me!

Fair: Of course. Absolutely. Come on, like, we’re it. We’re the two leaders, this is an amazing moment for the two of us, I think. But that’s also the beauty, right, of the 25th anniversary sometimes, is that the founders, the initial leaders get to be here. And so I do think it’s a joy and an honor for us to be able to have this time together. In preparing for all of this we shared with you our sneak peek of our framework and our refreshed vision and mission. And I just wanted to start with: What’s resonating with you as you look at what we’re carving out as PEAK’s next chapter?

Greanias: Well, certainly, when we conceived The Principles for PEAK Grantmaking, we knew it was going to be a big bet, a long haul, and a real change effort to get philanthropy to embed equity in its practices. And I remember going out and having conversations with funders, doing presentations on it, and at least one person telling me, “Well, that was really interesting, but it’s not really relevant for me because I don’t fund in that area.” And I think that, unfortunately, it’s coming from a place of sorrow and a place of horror that I don’t think we’re having those questions anymore in philanthropy. I think everybody understands the importance of addressing disparities, addressing inequities, and really looking and examining ourselves and how it shows up in practice. So what’s resonating most with me is that continuation and even deepened focus in how equity shows up in grantmaking and how grantmaking professionals, grants management professionals need to lead that.

Fair: That’s beautiful. I mean, looking back, when did you know that PEAK was on to something big or GMN was onto something big?

Greanias: So I would say I have two kind of big moments, well, I have many, many moments. But the two biggest ones are when I was working in my little silo and I got this letter, “Dear Grants Manager,” addressed to my foundation. And somebody handed it to me and they said, “Hey, Michelle, I think this is for you.” Because that wasn’t my title then, we didn’t have—that’s not how, it wasn’t even an identified profession then. “I think this might be yours.” There was a pre-meeting before the Council on Foundations meeting where they were going to bring people together to talk about grantmaking practices. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, there’s other people that do this!” And I went to that meeting, and it was my people, right? It was the people that could help me, that could advise me, that could support me. And so knowing that I wasn’t, I didn’t have a job, but I had a career and I had a community, was kind of that first moment. And then the second moment was when I was honored enough to have been given the job as executive director of PEAK Grantmaking. The very first day I spent at the Council on Foundations at a session they were doing on Project Streamline. The “Project Streamline: Drowning in Paperwork” report had just been dropped the week before. And so this was like the very first time I was really learning about it. And Richard Toth, who was one of the originators of that whole project, was delivering it. And so sitting in that audience, which was an audience outside of our grants management community, they were CEOs, they were program officers, and hearing them engage in practices for the first time, hearing them understand the relevance to the entire staff at a grantmaking organization, really reacting to the impact of bad practices on grantees, just also showed me that we had the potential to not just help ourselves in our profession, but change philanthropy.

Fair: Wow, I mean, those are two huge “aha!” moments for sure. And we’re using this year, and I think we always have, but in this moment of celebration, the field of grants management has just evolved so much. As the first staff member of the organization and someone who has remained kind of like in closing, yet not, because we’re never closing this out, when you think about PEAK’s next chapter, what are your aspirations for this community? Where do we go from here? What’s your hope for us?

Greanias: So PEAK Grantmaking—and when I say that, it’s the people, right? The people of PEAK Grantmaking are changing grantmaking, are making grantmaking more equitable, making it more streamlined, making it more effective. The people of PEAK Grantmaking are building individual careers. They’re building the understanding of what this profession is and this job and really and the people of PEAK Grantmaking are change agents in equity and how equity shows up in grantmaking. So for the future, just more, more, more. Build on this momentum, build on what’s come before, and let’s just keep going. There’s a lot more work to do, but there’s a lot of committed people to do it.

Fair: And we’re so glad that you’re still part of this network, and we just appreciate so much you being a part of the celebration. So thank you so much. We have you to thank as much as so many others for us getting to this moment. So, from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of the board, the staff, and our community, thank you, Michelle. And it has just been great spending this time with you.

Greanias: Well, thank you for leading us into the future. There’s no one I’d want more to follow as we go forward.

Fair: Oh, thank you so much, Michelle. Thank you.