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PEAK Grantmaking

CEO Panel: Grants Professionals as Change Agents for Operationalizing Equity


CEO Panel: Grants Professionals as Change Agents for Operationalizing Equity

Over the course of PEAK’s first 25 years, we have empowered our network in raising their voices as change-management practitioners to influence shifts toward more equitable grantmaking practices. We are reimagining what it means to be a grants management professional and reenvisioning the impact they can have on the sector.
As part of our silver anniversary celebration, we brought together a dynamic panel: PEAK President and CEO Satonya Fair in conversation with Kresge Foundation President and CEO Rip Rapson, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, and GEO President and CEO Marcus Walton. Together, they reflected on philanthropy’s evolution, vision for the next 25 years, and how grants professionals can lead the way as change agents for operationalizing equity.


Satonya Fair, PEAK Grantmaking: Thank you in advance to the panelists. I think this is going to be an amazing conversation with the four of us, so I’m so much looking forward to it. But I do want to take a moment to just say happy anniversary PEAK Grantmaking. Happy 25, we made it. It has just been such a distinct honor to be serving as a member of this amazing team at what has been an unprecedented time in our country and in the world. I just want to say a special thanks to the staff and to the board, the new folks and the seasoned for all the things that you do each and every day to ensure that PEAK can live up to its vision and to its mission. And for that, I am eternally grateful and I just want to take that moment to say thank you.

Also, to our amazing sponsors, donors, vendors, consultants, friends of PEAK, all of the people who come together, a committed group of volunteers, almost 300 and strong, and the more than 6,000 people who consider themselves part of this community, I just need to say thank you. That aside. Now, let’s get into it and make sure that we have Darren up and coming in. And so nice to see you, Marcus. So great to see you, Rip. Rip and I have known each other for some time and I just really appreciate him. Marcus has been my brother from another mother. You all may not know that, but we are kindred spirits in this work.

Darren, you have just been such a faithful supporter of PEAK Grantmaking of this community. Jim Gallagher, Suzanne Shea, Susan Harrison, all these people who that we discount in our community. We just thank you for making space for them to be so engaged with us over the years. I just welcome you all to this conversation, and we’re going to go where we go. I’m hoping this will be just a wonderful lively discussion. I have prepared a question to get a starter for each of you, and then we’re going to get into it. We have a great staff that’s managing the Q&A, so we’re going to encourage people from the very beginning, start putting your questions out there and the team’s going to be monitoring them.

But I am going to start first just in recognizing that each of us has to be very cognizant at this moment, that we’re really just in the middle of just share chaos, every day is a news day. We’ve joked around about the BBC years ago saying there’s no news today, and us all really wanting a moment where we can just all turn off for a second. But there are tens of thousands of nonprofits who had to shutter their doors. And so we feel particularly, I think for Marcus and I, when we are in conversations as nonprofits we just feel particularly grateful because PEAK’s had a partner like GEO. And we’ve had funders like Ford and Kresge to back our ideas and our programs.

What have you learned or leaned into to, to really help close the gaps that exist between funders and nonprofits and communities we serve during this unprecedented times? We’ve all just leaned in everything we’ve got to be here right now. So I’m going to start with Darren. Darren, just thank you so much again for Ford sponsorship, but I want to start with a question for you. Good afternoon, and saying not everyone here may know this, but you were very close to a grants rockstar for PEAK, who’s one of our founding members, Orneata. Let me just publicly thank you for supporting a mentorship program we have launched in her honor. Can you share a little bit about Orneata, and your early journey into being a grants management advocate?

Darren Walker, Ford Foundation: This is a big treat for me. Thank you. The opportunity to support PEAK and all you represent and do, which is essential and without which none of us could do our collective work. Orneata Prawl was a treasure. She was brilliant. She was quirky. She was a unique soul who was not always understood or always appreciated. Orneata made my journey possible because I entered the Rockefeller Foundation knowing very little about how large foundations worked. My experience at the Abyssinian Development Corporation in Harlem in the nineties was working primarily with small foundations, with corporations. She was the most important mentor to me in teaching me philanthropy from an operational and administrative perspective. And through Orneata, I came to understand the importance of those who carry the culture of an organization. So she was just irreplaceable.

And without Orneata, I wouldn’t be president of the Ford Foundation. I think what I observed about Orneata and the cohort of grants managers and support for the grant makers was that often the grant makers, the program officers, the directors, the program vice presidents took for granted the work of the grants managers. Did not always view them as peers, and did not always acknowledge the centrality of their work to the foundation’s work. For me, I was very clear with everyone that Orneata was central to my success, and it is why she followed me, why every time I was promoted she was the first person who came. And by the time I got to the Ford Foundation, she said she was on route to retirement and didn’t want to continue following me around. So, there you have it.

Fair: Well, that’s beautiful. Thank you so much. I just appreciate again that you have continued in your role at Ford to really make sure that when you’re making those big bets, you know that your operation staff, Jim Gallagher, all the team have got to have your back and doing it. And so it’s been so fun to be partnership with them and hear from you on how you all are evolving in this way.

And so Rip, I want to pivot to you as introductions. Good to see you. And just to say you and Darren both share a belief that philanthropy can truly be a lover for change. And so you have definitely advocated for the centrality of the role of grants management as a strategic partner. What are you most proud about that Kresge has advanced? What changes are you hoping will happen in the future?

Rip Rapson, Kresge Foundation: Well, thank you, Satonya. Darren’s answer made me change my thinking just to hear, because the second most proud moment of my engagement with grants management, I actually came before I came to Kresge, it was at the McKnight Foundation. I walked in and there was a sign of a goofy all over the place kind of grants management function as Darren suggested. Everyone just took it to grant. There was this young woman who I think everyone sort of agreed had enormous talent that was sort of underutilized.

And so I went over to her desk and I said, “Stephanie, would you be willing to take over grants management and make something of it?” Stephanie Duffy at McKnight did exactly that. And as I think many of the folks on the call know Stephanie has become one of the really fine professionals in our field. It’s one of my proudest moments to have been able to put her in charge of something that was chaotic and have her make it something quite beautiful.

Having said that, with apologies to Stephanie, my very proudest moment is Genise Singleton. I mean, there’s just no question in my mind that Genise, with all due respect for everyone on the call, is the finest we have. When I came in 2006 to Kresge, I thought McKnight was a mess. We were just all over the place. We worked in a certain kind of way. As many people can remember, we did these capital challenge grants that were just, oh, God, they were just crazy algorithmic kind of exercises. And who knows what the grants manager was to do in those circumstances? And so we asked Genise to start building out a function.

And for the last, however many years that is, 15, 16 years, she has done that with such enormous integrity and insight and commitment. She has been at Kresge, I think some 23, 24 years, but she’s headed our grants management function formally for, that was 16 and it has transformed our organization. I mean, I would just say quickly, Satonya, that what she has done is embraced innovation. We were one of the first organizations to authorize electronic payments archaic, is that seems. We were one of the first to invest in Flux and to actually try to tune it up properly. A process that continues as we speak.

She has pioneered work with a data disaggregation, particularly working on a racial equity baseline. She’s incorporated our lending practices into Flux, which had not been done before, and it’s just enormously difficult and complex. And so the idea that you could take an organization to that level of innovation as quickly as she did is just remarkable. We can talk more about all of the other ways in which Genise and our entire team at Kresge have contributed. But I must say that I am most proud of being associated Genise.

Fair: Thank you so much. We look to all the examples, there’s so many people within the PEAK community. We have more than 500 organization members, and they are always looking to see who has gone before. We are trying to empower both the individuals, as well as the teams and organizations to all be change-makers, to go out there. It has been really awesome to have both Ford and have Kresge as organizations that we can put out there for others to go say, they figured Flux out and they’re still doing it, but they’ve figured it out and how to really incorporate it. For Ford to be able to leverage all the dollars that you all leveraged so quickly out there, the way you did it, it was very innovative. And so it’s so important. PEAK can stand up and say, we have an idea, but it’s really important for us to say, here are the organizations that have taken up some of these things and they’re activating, and to peer you all together.

And so I just want to lift that up because I think that’s a bit of the magic sauce of how PEAK really advances its work. And the other place is through deep partnerships. Marcus, I turn to you again, because this is just, we know that we have been pushed as organizations in the philanthropy supporting sphere, as well as just in general as nonprofits. We’re always hearing about, are you collaborating? Are partnering? Should you be combining all these different things? Marcus, I just want to say that GEO under your second year of leadership, happy anniversary.

In your role, you are going through a lot of your own shifts in growing and growth, as far as advancing mission and vision. What’s top of mind for you? What do you want to share about how PEAK and some of our other core community organizations, grants folks, operations folks, how are we all coming together to really partner and support your vision for this sector?

Marcus Walton, GEO: Thank you, Satonya. First congratulations and happy anniversary, PEAK. Darren, Rip, it’s a real pleasure to share the stage with you, and you too, Satonya. You have so much to offer into these conversations. I want to be super clear that this is a four-person panel with some self-moderation and not a three-person panel. All right. Having said that, perhaps that’s in the spirit of answering your question as well.

Fair: I love it. Thank you.

Walton: Indeed. But even from the stories that we’ve heard so far from Darren and Rip, it’s clear to me and very relevant to responding to the question that we come up through a system. The system that we’re privileged to operate within is the philanthropic sector. But we don’t just stay inside of one organization or one entity or one role, we matriculate through the system.

And so maintaining the relationships throughout the matriculation process is a thing that I will underscore as critical to anyone in the sector, regardless of the role, but who has an aspiration for deeper impact. Wherever you are matters now. I remember being a program officer, for example, at The Cleveland Foundation, I knew nothing about philanthropy in a similar way that Darren described, but I was maybe even worse off because I had just been a community organizer in the Bronx, and I had a little impatience about how change needed to happen inside of these structures.

So I found myself more frustrated than not, as an officer attempting to move things in a different way. But true story, you didn’t notice, Satonya, one of my closest colleagues was in our grants management department because she would walk me through the process. She would point out ways of what was possible to do things differently in a way that aligned with my hopes or aims. She would just give me lessons, calm me down, point out ways to think about possibilities and organize conversations and people, resources within the institution in a way that felt differently.

Now had I had a racial equity lens at the time, we’re talking about 2005, it would’ve been a different experience, but it preceded that a little bit, except for those at the forefront of that work, such as Pri and Laura Villarosa, Susan Darrenova, Annie Casey and so many other people. But I name those because those are close colleagues as well who taught me everything that I know. And so I continue to build upon the relationships, not focusing so much on the organization that brought us together, but making sure we leave a legacy to support the infrastructure strength, to build the going concern, the business model of those entities, while also building the power of the individuals with whom we’re connecting.

So remembering that, there’s something about philanthropy that points back to human beings. I love the mission of PEAK and how you center transformation. GEO used to focus its efforts in some ways on increasing the awareness of a broad group. We would introduce those issues that were around the corner, so to speak, forward-thinking, forward-looking and introducing the community of funders, representing the field, representing the GEO community to consider how to integrate those into their practices and principles.

Certainly what I learned over that course of time, matriculating through various organizations, shout out to AFI, shout out to Borealis Philanthropy, CHANGE Philanthropy of which I have been a member for over a decade now. What we learned is a couple of the things, that change happens at the speed of trust. So many people say, “I wish I had coined that one.” I get attributed that a lot. That’s a Stephen Covey quote. He was first. So let me clarify that right now, but so does racial equity. Leaders of change cannot operate in isolation, so building relationships based on trust, transformative relationships based on shared vision, shared values, shared purpose, actually contribute more to the change we want see than transactional relationships that tend to be the more traditional conventional standard for the relationships we form in philanthropy.

And so with this insight and this experience, one of the first things I saw in GEO was this aspiration to be differently, and wanted to penetrate beyond awareness into impact toward thriving communities and nonprofits. And so we elevated. We can continue to focus on awareness, we continue to build across the network of philanthropy, serving organizations that I mentioned, including the NCRPs of the world with attention to power and all of the important ways and how they flows. But in this case, now we focus on operationalizing. What does it take to operationalize? Because we can’t train our way to transformation. We can’t have the book clubs. We can’t have the … as powerful as the individual experiences of transformation can tend to be. It doesn’t always translate into the kind of structural changes that we know are required, societally for us all to thrive.

And so GEO has been taking our time. We’ve been using this moment under COVID, in particular to focus inwardly, we tool ourselves, support each other, develop relationships based on trust. And most importantly, really consider what it looks like to mend those relationships that have been damaged over the years, where perhaps we didn’t bring our best into our work or relationships, right?

Fair: Absolutely.

Walton: I think represents an opportunity today for us all. And GEO wants to be the space that facilitates the deepening of our collective proficiency in these kinds of trust based practices toward a shared vision for thriving for their entire sector.

Fair: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Thank you. I hear all of you lifting up relationships, which is so critically important. Also, the fact that where we started is not where we are now. We all have an equity lens that wasn’t there before. We have new language, and actually we have a flame under us as well, because the world needs us all, each of us in our own right within our organizations and as individuals to just be pushing the needle toward the future, because we cannot go back to all of the, this is the way we always used to do it. Something that I know us grants folks are often guilty of too. All of us need to be pushing collectively forward. So I want to pivot to a question because within PEAK, when we think about our framework and our aspirations for those within our network, we talk about going beyond, being world good, and being philanthropy excellent.

And so I would just ask you, because this has been such an interesting moment in our history. I mean, I’ve learned so much about my own leadership. One is that leadership was not created for me or by me, black women were not creating the nonprofit leader format, and also being equity-centered. This is so new for other folks, that the way I show up having been trained by folks like Marcus and Susan Avie and other folks to really have a very sharp lens on equity as I go into the work. We have to create a new model. We have to do things very differently to be successful as a nonprofit. And I would say as a foundation. And so I would ask you, what has been the skill that you have had to lean into in this moment?

And as you look around and think about where grants and just foundations are going, it’s a two part question, happy to repeat the second part, but also what are you advising the collective we, tap into or be thinking about tapping into more as far as skills, if we all want to be taking up the task of operationalizing around equity? So what have you leaned in and what have you learned about yourself in this leadership moment? And what are you advising your team and others to be thinking about as far as skills and experience, so that we can all collectively get to this aspirational place that Marcus is talking about? And so Marcus, maybe I’ll pivot back to you since you were just there. What did you have to lean in? What did you learn about yourself? What are you hoping that all of us can figure out so we can do this right?

Walton: I’m laughing because I have to be honest. I mean, there are a lot of people who thankfully have said, we appreciate some of the things that we’ve heard you represent in these spaces. And so I’m truly committed to showing up with that kind of integrity and vulnerability in these spaces to really focus on the culture, like redefine and re-imagining the culture that defines this sector. So having said that, it’s been a humbling experience. There’s a generation of leaders coming up in the sector that require our support and encouragement. GEO was siloed in some ways, hierarchical unnecessarily, where the form didn’t follow the function. And so we needed to move and be responsive, but our shape, our structure was more about building and growing out our membership.

And I say that respectfully, not as a critique, as much as a reality of shifting times. And so we had to shift. I went from a mindset of navigating philanthropy, for example, in order to make connections and build power, to transforming philanthropy, to accelerating our racial equity commitment, especially when the racial atrocities hit in 2020, it was time to do things differently and acknowledge that. And so to make it very straightforward, the thing that I had to learn to do is really to be willing to be transformed by the experience of leading the work itself. Not transforming others, and not pointing outwardly, but allowing myself to show up fully in leadership in the unknown, in ambiguity, and being willing to be shaped by the process of moving through the adversity and not attempting to work around it.

Fair: Well, Darren, is that resonating with you? I appreciate that so much, Marcus. Darren, for you, what are you tapping into and what are you encouraging as we look at this new world order we hope to get to?

Darren Walker: Yeah, well, I agree with everything that’s been said. I think Marcus said it very well. For me, this is really about leadership of institutions and philanthropy, because we set the stage for … We define the parameters of the culture. We inherited, those of us who lead legacy organization. We inherit accreted practices and norms and standards. So if we want to change the culture, we have to speak specifically to those practices, those standards, the accreted culture, and how that manifests today. And so that’s what I try to do. Also, because I am a product of those accreted cultures and practices, my own behavior can manifest some of the worst ways in which those cultures have over time evolved because I am a product of that. And so I have to check my own behavior. But I think we have to be comfortable in talking about how we as presidents manage issues of power, how we move beyond the rhetoric and the performative acts that so many leaders in philanthropy engage in, that when you go back to their own shops, their own people, our own people don’t experience that.

And so our own vulnerability for inauthenticity, because in our own shops, our own colleagues don’t experience us the way somebody experiences us on a stage or in an essay or in an op-ed. And so that’s what I think about and try to hold my myself accountable for, and then want to be comfortable talking about. At the end of the day, the dynamic in certainly large foundations has been one where those senior program staff have often not viewed other staff at large with the, I believe, adequate level of respect in part, because the grant makers is I had a situation once with a senior person who was angry because the grant that she wanted to get done had not reached my desk. She came to me and said, expressed her anger at how slow her grant was moving.

I had to remind her that it wasn’t her grant, that it was the Ford Foundation’s grant, and that every person in the value chain had ownership in that grant. And that while she might be the grant relationship manager with the president of the NGO, that there were other people who also had relationships with that same nonprofit, including the grants manager. I wanted to provide her a teachable moment, to think that coming president to say, get the grant and approve it because it’s mine and I think it has to get … for her to respect that the expertise and wisdom that the grant managers and compliance was bringing to the ultimate successful grant was as critical and as important as her subject matter expertise in employment.

And so, and I use that as an example, as Jim Gallagher will tell you at a town hall to just say to everyone in the foundation, whether you are the guard who the concierge and the atrium who greets visitors, or whether you are the driver in the office in India, or whether you are the person who hits send on the wire transfer to the grantee, all of us have an ownership in every grant. Every time you hear some NPR say brought to you by the Ford Foundation or EJI, Equal Justice Initiative, thank you for the legacy. All of us, our owners of that outcome, of that grant. And so I just think being clear as leaders of foundations, of the value that everybody brings to the mission can help give people clarity on how you therefore then expect them to behave. And how power is to be shared by everyone in the foundation.

Fair: Absolutely. Thank you. Your memory is taking back to my 20 years as a grants manager and grants director in several different roles. I think what’s resonating for me is I think my staff and I, we are also a work-in progress, working on our internal culture. But the key is collective leaders in this moment does require some foundational understandings and trust between us, but we are really, really interested in ensuring that each person who comes into the community knows that they lead from where they are. And that is not about title. That is about what you know and what you can advance and holding your own. And so that has been so critical. I know for me, in my leader journey, still getting to know new members on my team and folks around me, but I think it’s just been so critical to be within your organization, your role is critical. It doesn’t matter what the title is.

And so going beyond title, and as you say, that’s so important, but to have CEOs, all of us reinforcing that from the leadership seat, every role is critical, and that there’s no one above the other is so important. We have to narrow the power gap principle, and we keep finding new ways to really advance that because we keep seeing people show up in so many ways that are against that very principle. And so I know too, Marcus, to your point about the humility of it all, there are times when I open my mouth and I go, “God, did I just say that?” I know that that was putting me from some leaders that I probably heard 20 years ago, and I have to check myself in my moment; go to my circle, get it together, apologize, and then hope the next time. I’m speaking more from an authentic Satonya, equity lens and not from how I was strained.

And so this is so perfect to pass this to you, because at the end of the day, you have been in government, you have been in different roles, and now you sit within this space of philanthropy that is a nonprofit and a funder, but also a partner. And so what are you digging into in this moment? What are you encouraging all of us to be you thinking about?

Rapson: Well, maybe just a couple of builds on Marcus and Darren. First, as a field, as philanthropy and as the nonprofit community, let’s just be really clear that Darren has emerged to redefine the terms. No one has done it the way he … I know Darren always disclaims this, but the power of his voice, the power of his integrity has forever changed the way philanthropy talks about itself and the way it envisions its relationship to others. So, that’s one thing that for me has changed over last period. Darren began that build a long time ago, but I think it’s come with particular power at the inflection point of racial reckoning and COVID.

The second build is the extent to which at least in our shop, and I suspect probably in everyone’s shop that the grants management professionals have come to sort of hold multiple dimensions of contribution. I mean, yes, it’s processing and data and all of that, but think of beyond the grant-making. I mean, any foundation is an economic engine, is an employer. And so Genise and her team have been central to thinking about how do we do vendor contracts? Where does the equity appear in how we hire? All of those sorts of things. The team has been part of a powerful conversation about what it means to have Kresge operate as a community.

I’ll never forget years ago Genise said to me, she came up to me and said, “I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve always felt very deeply about the mission and the integrity of what Kresge does. But I’ve never really felt that it was mine. There needed to be a sort of a culture shift for the folks of color in our shop to feel as if they were as much owners of this organization as I was, or anyone else was.” I said, “And.” And you said, “Well, I think I feel that.” It was the highest compliment I’ve been paid in 20 years of philanthropy. But the structuring of community is something that grants management is key to.

Serving as a member of the broader community, think of all of the ways that the folks on this call have participated in building this field, and Marcus talked about that earlier, you did as well, Satonya, the idea that we have speeches and convenings and writings and networks. I mean, we have to look outward as much as we look inward. I’m enormously proud of what Genise and Marcus did before her. And all of our grants management professionals have done to kind of put their point of view out there to understand from a grants management professionals perspective what it means to be in philanthropy.

Finally, it just seems to me that as a grant maker, the deep powerful integration of grants management professionals into everything we do is more than just sort of … I think the video really powerfully stated, is more than just sort of processing data. It’s providing advice, it’s doing analytics, it’s figuring out next generation mapping, it’s trying to figure out all of the complexities that lie around the corner. It’s helping us deal with community politics. As Marcus said earlier, that grants management professionals are the interface that most of us have with community and with community residents. And we would be wasting a huge resource and asset were we not to call on their perspective, their expertise and their insight in helping figure out how we shift as the times shift. So for me, I think what Darren and Marcus said earlier was absolutely right. And it’s just so multidimensional that I think we sometimes lose sight of that.

Fair: Yeah. And Rip, you’re lifting up something, that we can look to see other leaders in this space and say that what you’re saying, Darren, what you’re saying, Marcus, what you’re saying, Rip, will help me go out there better. And that’s what I think the admiration that sometimes flows to any one of us. We should be here to use our power for good, first point. But secondly, is that it is wonderful to look over and see what Marcus is doing, what Carly Haret change is doing and go, “Ah, let me get on that.” I think, Darren, that is what you have done and kind of just being a disruptor for what had been a very traditional kind of, this is the way we do it for a long time.

I don’t think you’re pretending that you’ve got it all figured out. That’s the beauty too, but also you are definitely in this moment, creating a template, just like, hey, Mackenzie Scott, a lot of people aren’t following her template. They were like, “That’s cute. That’s nice.” And then they went back to the way that they always did things. But I think I have to quote Brad Smith because Rip you’re making me think about something he said, about not the role of grants management. And Brad, if you can type and out me and at me, because I’m going to say this.

We’re having a conversation and he said, “I’ve said this before and I didn’t necessarily get a great reception.” He said, “You guys need to be careful with grants managers network. You changed your name.” He’s like, “But you all are purveyors of information.” He said, “And you sit at a nexus between the program staff and leadership and board and community, that is really important. And now your knowledge management and you’re doing evaluations and you are the grant maker, and you’re also sometimes responsible for the president’s discretionary grants or the trustees grants. You’re sitting in this critical place.” He said, “Future focused, be purveyors of information.”

We have a great question from Kim Foster that’s coming in, will be in the moment. She says, “What advice?” And Marcus, I think you started giving her an answer? What advice do we have in breaking the perception that information equals power and needs to be hoarded? That is the question that Kim … So just to repeat that, what advice do you have in breaking the perception that information equals power and needs to be hoarded? I think it’s such a great question for us.

Walker: I think, Satonya, it’s so interesting because my experience has been that the grant maker staff support the grants operations, the grants managers have themselves as, and again, I’m generalizing, have not been hoarders of information. They have actually been reservoirs of information that hasn’t always been appreciated and leveraged for what it can do to actually bring superpower to the grant-making ultimate impact. And so I actually think absolutely information is power. But often it has been viewed that the information that your grants manager might have isn’t as important as the information that another grants program officer or senior program officer or a new person who’s just walked in the door from another foundation might have, as opposed to actually acknowledging the inherent asset that the information that is within your own institution that goes often unrecognized.

And so my experience has been when you have the mechanisms within an organization, so at Ford, we have these meetings where we talk about data information, what we’re learning. So we have about these learning. My experience had always been that the people who spoke at those learning sessions were program officers or program directors, and that the grants manager sort of sat against the wall and weren’t really engaged unless they were called on. And so if you actually structure learning sessions with the grants managers as part of the respondents to whatever the question is, you’ll enhance learning for the organization. And so to me, I think so much of this is about, as Marcus and Rip have been saying, and you are modeling, it is what headset are you bringing to this?

I think that’s part of the challenge because at least again, I don’t want to generalize, but I can certainly talk about a foundation like a Rockefeller or a Ford historically. The headset has been a very top-down elitist and hierarchical way of thinking about the work. I think if we were to have impact, that kind of thinking is actually antithetical. I mean, if you actually think about impact in the way it ought to be thought about, this kind of hierarchical thinking. And as I’d say to my colleagues, the rural villages and streets and slums across Africa are littered with the carcasses of projects of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundation, because we didn’t think about some of the things that are authentically needed on the ground to sustain and build resilience and ensure …

And that experience for me came in part from my own experience, working on the ground. I think Rip is way too generous to me as he often always is because I am making my little contribution, just like he’s making his contribution. We all have a contribution to make from wherever we sit, but I think because of my lived experience, because of my experience working in a basement on 138th Street for 10 years, I mean, that was a different headset that I brought to Rockefeller and to Ford. I used to interface with the grants managers when I was a grantee of the Ford foundation. So I understood their value literally from the ground. So I don’t know, I just think so much of this is about leadership and boards. And as long as boards hire people who do not understand what is going on at this level, we will keep getting what we’ve got.

And so, again, my call is to actually not to really speak to boards and to say, if philanthropy is going to change, then boards have to change. And the decisions of boards as to who ought to lead philanthropy is going to need to change. Because without that, we’re going to keep getting the same thing we’ve got.

Fair: Absolutely.

Walton: Wow.

Fair: I hear so many things and I’m going to take this as an invitation and come back to you on the board presentation, because here’s the other funny thing, we each operate where we have boards, they hire folks with skills and talent and experience. And this is not a dig at a board, but this is about the experience, especially from a grants and op’s perspective of all the support we’ve put into over those quarterly board meetings, and so many things. It’s really interesting that where the power and the approval still sits at the board when we are closest to both the relationships and the work. But also we’ve been hired with the expertise to be able to make lots of decisions.

So I do think that there’s a time coming where we all need to probably focus our attention very positively on the future of boards, to support the work that our teams are doing, that we are. I mean, we’re putting our whole hearts into this to get this right in. Darren, you’re talking about, instead of thinking about participatory grant-making, thinking about being participatory inside and the way we work differently, and about that being important for leadership. I don’t know, Rip or Marcus, if you wanted to respond to that power before we go on because we have a lot of questions coming in.

Walton: Yeah. I’m loving the questions, and I’m one of those new school leaders. And so I’m also in the chat while Darren is talking. I’m typing the results. So, it’s just orientation, but it takes all of us. Thank you for really holding the floor in a really strong way. I just wanted to just name something that might go unspoken if I don’t name it, because in some ways, Satonya, we’re on this panel to behemoth in the field. And so it wouldn’t necessarily be a thing for you, Rip, or Darren to talk about courageous leadership because you model it so much, you’re leading in the way that you lead.

But as an up-and-comer in the field who has seen the modeling and pattern myself after the modeling of so many of our colleagues in the sector, oh my goodness, especially the broad network of black and Latino and leaders of a diverse range of backgrounds in our identities across the sector over a decade that helped shape me. I want to underscore what I heard from Darren. What I heard in the examples is through line of courageous leadership. And so we can say it’s important to demonstrate courageous leadership in the questions on the side, it talked about how does senior leadership hold responsibility for changes, systems and processes? At the end of the day, you can have so many tool from my experience. So many toolkits and frameworks and institutes and consultants, but if their willingness isn’t there, then the change will not happen. And it’s a collective experience.

I’m speaking on behalf of, not just that network of folks who influenced me, but I’m talking about ancestors; my grandma who sent me $300 from the church that I wanted to send back when I was in college, I was messing around. So remembering who we represent by the time we actually get into these roles, beat down, exhausted, unappreciated, half of your work goes unseen, except for colleagues. This is the real experience. And if we don’t use these platforms to tell the real story, then why should someone want to be in this role? Why would somebody want to assume this position if all they see me doing is being miserable? They don’t see any joy in this. I mean, seriously, the only thing that would draw you is the money

Fair: And that’s not enough. It’s not the thing.

Walton: So let me close the loop on this briefly. I know that’s funny, but y’all prop this thing up so much, we got to make this real. We got deliver on the promise. How do we support and cultivate courageous leaders is one of those critical questions to me. I want to pose that to each of you.

Fair: Definitely.

Walton: The way it happened for me was with a profound and strong network of executive coaches. I always to this day have at least two coaches I access any time, but this is something that is a secret in the field. It’s been preserved for a long part until recent history reserved to the most elite executive offices, but the micro tie is in access to this level of support, I think, is critical for us to see a broader range of folks. Because the passion is there. Half of my staff has helped me transform into this kind of person, that’s courageous enough to show up in this crazy way on this call.

Fair: For sure.

Walton: So I’m doing really to encourage in model for someone else in a way that normalizes this, like this is how I experience you there. You’ve noticed and you know, playing boy in the way that I may have just done that. But the courage is there, the audacity in your leadership, Rip, the same. And Satonya, you too. I mean, the audacity in the messaging and things that you’re willing to persevere in order to achieve the conditions for thriving is what we all must demand from leadership in this moment. And so support those leaders is critical, I think.

Fair: For sure. I know Rip for you as a white man in this moment of equity and reckoning, what is your advice? Also, what are you drawing on that courageous leadership? Because I do think as much as folks are looking at the black and brown, they’re looking at the white folks too. And so let’s just point that out, that how you show up in this moment matters incredibly as far as this courageous leadership. So want to give you some space to really respond and share with us kind of where you are in this moment.

Rapson: I was really taken by Darren’s phrase of sort of accreted cultures. I have obviously the beneficiary of an enormous amount of accretion solidification, ossification, whatever it is. One of the things that seems to me that a white leader might be well advised to bear in mind is that leadership is not normed the way it was 20 years ago, and that’s obvious. For me, that me is pushing leadership into the organization. I am no better than my grants management director, I am no better than my IT director. I know that sounds like a cliche, but the number of folks who exercise courageous leadership every day in our organization and I think in all of your organizations is enormous. I mean, I couldn’t put, possibly do what Wendy Jackson who directs our Detroit Program does. I couldn’t possibly do what Raquel Hatter who directs our human services program does. I mean, their networks, their willingness to take risk, their willingness to go way beyond their grant monies.

I mean, we’re ATM machines, but we’re also influencers, we’re organizers, we’re community connectors, we’re translators. We’re a lot of things. And boy, unless that is in every inch of your organization, I think as a white leader, you have completely failed. I think that the opportunity with this enormous energy of what in community to diversify what leadership looks like, that doesn’t necessarily have to sit in the corner office, but sits in the grants management office or sits in the investment office and sits in all of the different corners of our place is just enormously important. At some point, Kresge will be led by a person of color. I have absolutely no doubt, but until that happens and I’m looking forward to that, I have a different role to play and I need to bring to the party all of the anti-accretion that I possibly can.

Fair: Beautiful. Thank you, Rip. Darren, I didn’t know if you wanted to share something on that. Darren, you’re on mute.

Walker: I think it’s really important for us, and I think if you’re really a foundation like Kresge or Ford, we occupy a particular space in the ecosystem. I am very aware and my own skin, and I was very lucky to be at the Ford Foundation to be considered when I was. I will say that I said things in my interview that would have absolutely disqualified me in terms of many foundations. I know that among large legacy foundations, even though the head-hunters or anyone would say, it’s not true, that there are foundation boards that would never have chosen a black queer man as president. Absolutely hands down, would not have happened. I was fortunate to be at a foundation with the board that when I said if you do appoint me, you will get all of me, black queer, never went to private schools, a background that is not like most of my peers because I have to authentically be who I am to be successful, I believe in this role.

So I was lucky that I had a board that supported that vision for what they wanted in their next leader. And so I have been blessed to be in a position, as Rip said, at a foundation that does and has a historic kind of unique role in that ecosystem. Therefore, you have a platform to say things and to signal to other boards and to telegraph things of change that hopefully will engage others to say, well, wait a minute, if Ford is doing this, why can’t we? That does not mean that all things are great within your own house, as Jim Gallagher knows. I say at our town halls all the time, we have to be very careful throwing rocks from a glass house because we literally have a glass house. And so when you throw rocks, you better be very careful.

Fair: Absolutely.

Walker: And so I know, yes. I’m proud of fact that we’ve got the kind of diverse board that seven of my nine direct reports are women and half of are women of color. Those are great data, and it’s wonderful, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own issues, the issues that we don’t have black women in the foundation who still talk about gender bias or racial bias, that we don’t have trans people who are concerned that they are not fully understood or that people who are disabled and all its forms are comfortable speaking out about that because of stigma associated with their particular disability. All of these things are very real, that we have to be willing to engage in. And when we do that, then the issues of truly having a more participatory consultative culture, where everyone’s voice is heard and appreciated can be closer to realization.

But again, at the end of the day, I’m a broken record here, because this is all about the board yeah. Everything that is wrong with an organization or everything that is right with an organization is because of the board. So when you see an organization, a nonprofit, a foundation, or a public company that is doing well, it’s because of the board. And when you see one that has a bad culture, has a bad leader, it’s because of the board. And that’s the end of the … At Ford, we spent years, millions of dollars training thousands of PhDs, because we had a theory of changes, if we flooded the zone with black and brown and women PhDs that the academy in the United States, the academic cohorts across America we’re going to change in university systems.

We’d see all of these black and brown and women and queer presidents of major American universities. 50 years in, guess what? We learned our theory of change was invalidated. It doesn’t mean that that wasn’t a good initiative. It was an amazing initiative, but our original objective, which was to transform the leadership of higher education, particularly at institutions that were selective, that were traditionally elite, we didn’t do that. And the reason we didn’t do that, because we didn’t the boards of those elite institutions and universities didn’t change. So we can have as many black and brown PhDs running across America as we want, but if the boards of American universities and elite colleges don’t hire them as provost they’re never going to be a president. And so what I’ve said to my team is we need to change the point of intervention, and the point of intervention needs to be the boards, and to challenge that structure and the systemic practices of boards that continue to replicate the kinds of systems that have under-delivered for our democracy.

Fair: Absolutely. And it starts with the board. Unfortunately George Floyd. A lot of things that have happened in the last year, the pandemic has been that moment. It has been where conversation has started now within boards. It’s been amazing to kind of hear folks on our community reporting on little glimmers of transformation and sometimes large components of transformation, but whole stop, great project for all of us with GOS lead is really like thinking about the work we must do with trustees. It’s so hard for us as leaders to even name it, talk about it openly, and just be like, we need for everything happening in this power structure while we change our own and our teams. And we try to get everybody to the strategic table with the equal voice. We’re not equal sometimes even in our courageous leadership in our board’s minds.

And so Darren, you are sharing a very fortunate story. But we found in our journal, if anybody who’s seen our journal, we always have an anonymous, that is because courageous leadership also doesn’t allow us to just listen sometimes to what people really need to tell us that we’re not getting right. I just want to say that I think in this moment, not only as we try to figure out how to be more honest about where we have to go and changing our top structure, not just who we are, but we also just have to get very good at listening and very good at inviting more people to the strategic table. I’ll tell you as PEAK CEO, I say, if you get invited, have something to say, that’s my job, is to make sure everybody in our community is ready for those moments.

But the key is, is that the board piece is still like, it’s the pinnacle, it’s something we really have to break down. We have eight good minutes before … I know my team’s going to start to move us toward the close and I have two questions, two important ones that I really want to get out there, because Darren, just as we’re talking about what doesn’t work, I do want to just point out that there’s lots of glimmers of inspiration. And one of the things we saw yesterday was the press release from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust saying that the money that they had earned during the pandemic, $123 million is going to be not kept and reinvested, but invested out into community. And 71 very surprise nonprofits were called to the table place space to receive that money.

I just thought it was such an inspirational moment. Our team was so excited to just be privy to the knowledge that they were going to be doing it, but there is amazing inspiration and amazing innovations. And each one of our organizations has really tried it to take up something big and something new. If we are to truly kind of start to transform philanthropy, I would just ask you all, if we’re centering equity and also making sure that we’re leveraging the strength of our operations and our programmatic benches together, Marcus, for you and I partnering together in our big missions, what’s different for philanthropy five years from now, 25 years from now, if we’re really truly centering equity and getting everyone to the strategic table, which goes to a question that William posed to us about, just getting more people to the strategy table. What’s changing if we can get this right?

Rapson: Can I give you an easy thing to pivot off of? One of the things that I often struggle with is that we deal with philanthropy as a monolith. When I think about philanthropy five years or 10 years or 20 years, 25 years from now, I think about a suite of expectations for the corporate sector and their philanthropy. I mean, get off the cause marketing stuff and show us that these big money bombs that you’re throwing at us can actually be used. If your community foundations step up, you are not fidelity. Get a point of view, move that point of view and make difference in your community. I mean, look at the San Francisco Foundation, look at the Cleveland Foundation. There are lots of examples.

If you’re a large individual donors, just pay attention to MacKenzie Scott. That’s easy. And if you’re a big nationally endowed foundation, try to create a different balance between your charitable impulses and your long-term structural change. Again, Darren has modeled this so powerfully. I’d like to think that we have, at Kresge, I think lots of folks have, but get underneath the question. I mean, go upstream, don’t try to strengthen your local hospital system, try to strengthen your local public health system. I mean, they’re, ah. I think Darren’s point about what the point of intervention is, is just got to be constantly reinterrogative, that I think we’ve got it wrong in a lot of cases. I don’t think there’s any question that that is true. So for me, philanthropy as an ecology is a really complicated thing. I would want different things from each one of them, but each one of them without question centers equity in a way that I think was unheard of a decade ago.

Fair: Absolutely. Thank you, Rip. Because we are complex. It is complex and we must have complex solutions. It is, we are not a monolith. So thank you so much for that. Marcus, or Darren

Walker: Satonya, when you said earlier, and I should underscore this, it is important to have straight white men saying this. Okay. I would know, sorry, I just got to say it. It is very important to have our allies who are on the journey with us, some who want to be and are maybe less secure in figuring out how to do that, and some we need to make sure we are inviting in a way that allows them to be safe and make mistakes and be vulnerable and not fear retribution, if for some benign reason the wrong term is used or the wrong word is used, that they are not sanctioned as horrible racist, misogynist, and anti whatever. We’ve got to have everybody who wants to be on the journey on the journey with us. And so that’s why Rip’s voice has been so important in this, because there are stakeholders in this effort who will listen to his voice, certainly more than they’ll listen to my voice.

Fair: Absolutely. And when our trustees get it, right? When I was talking to a family foundation recently and I was like, “As a group of trustees, I know it sounds crazy, but when you say it, people hear it differently. When you model being different as trustees, people will follow that.” PEAK, any of us can get up there all day. It’s different when the trustee shows up at their golf club and says, “Hey, this is why we’re going to do it differently.” It’s just real. Also, black people are tired. I am exhausted every day, still trying to fight the fight. And so it is lovely, not only to have people talking about being allies, but living in at like Rip is doing, and like so many others are doing. It’s just so important because we’re human, and we’re also going through our own pain, loss and everything else while still trying to live up to the leadership expectations that people have created for us. And so-

Walker: As leaders, Satonya, the hard part is we’re all exhausted. Black and brown people are exhausted, white people are exhausted.

Fair: Everybody is exhausted.

Walker: I mean, we’re all exhausted. Okay. And so I am absolutely like you as a black person or a black person exhausted by this last year, the compounding effect. I know as I’ve talked to white allies who say my gosh, I’m exhausted by this and you say, “You think you’re exhausted.” I mean, try 400 years. But my point is just to say, I think we all as leaders have to also lead with grace, lead with generosity, lead by not assuming the worst instinct or the most malicious intent if something comes out the wrong way. I mean, we need to just be more generous with each other. I’m not talking about those marchers in Charlottesville, I mean, there is no space for generosity there. I’m sorry.

But I think most of us are not in that category, and are really trying to forge what has to be a new normal. We’re never going back to that world, the BC world, before COVID, we’re never going back to that world. We got to figure out what this PC world, this post COVID world that we’re living through now in real time trying to figure out together. As leaders, we’ve got to put our headset on to do that work, which is going to require as I say, a set of less skills than just philosophy of how we want to engage.

Fair: And the prompt is, Marcus, free jump in there, is that again, you lead from where you are, title agnostic. So when you hear this, this is not Darren talking about the CEOs or the C-suite. I think all of us have to take up the mantle of being allies to each other, having grace and space with each other, but also figuring, I know I’m trying to make sure that someone from my team or someone in the PEAK community that’s right behind me in this seat, everybody’s a leader. How we show up is not about how the people at the “top of your organization”, it is all of us. That is a piece I don’t know if we always get. And so I just want to take what you said and say, everyone, this is you. So thank you, Darren and Marcus.

Walton: I love it. And I’m going to respectfully challenge everything y’all just said. Because in part, I believe that 25 years from now, we want to be very well-practiced in deliberating or holding jointly conflict and complexity right now. And Darren, I’m saying what you said in a different kind of way. Hopefully I’m not mansplaining, but what I do mean here is as a leadership competency, as a norm that defines the culture of philanthropy 25 years from now, if we are successful, first, GEO on the micro level, we’re going to be doing that. We are already retooling ourselves to support the grappling with the complexity of implementation and operationalizing our commitments to equity and community-driven philanthropy.

So, what does that mean? It means moving away from an over emphasis on efficiency related to project management and really grounding ourselves, and again, developing mastery, which is about repetition, 10,000 hours of deliberate repetition around facilitative coaching. Meeting people where they are developmentally and helping them move along a continuum toward mastery. Advanced practice around the stuff that we’re talking about. And the sector will reflect that. Perhaps if I was to bring in some of the work that GEO did early on, thank you for acknowledging that, Satonya, as well as what our colleagues at board source have recently put out under the framework of purpose-driven board leadership. Perhaps boards don’t exist in the same format that they do now, perhaps there’s been an interrogation of values for boards? Shout out to the GEO board who has very quietly upended the way that we’ve done business and how they show up.

Fair: And the PEAK board too. I mean, amazing, change it all. So, amazing.

Walton: And so maybe 25 years from now, these are stories of like, really? People look back on history and say, “I can’t believe it was like that, no way. Darren, get out of here. Rip, no way this was how it was. Satonya, get out of here.” No, it’s not just one of those stories of like, yeah, I used to walk to school a mile in the snow, there really did use to be these things called boards that didn’t reflect the representation of the folks in the communities in a way that helped them bring the same value and qualities and knowledge into the work that was taking place.

Fair: Well, I just, again, every time we have a group of people together, we generate a blog post, an article, a white paper, and a future conversation. I just have to thank the three of you so much for joining me in this moment as we celebrate our 25th anniversary. You all just are people I admire. I caught a little shade when people saw it was all men on this panel, and I said, “I’m waiting for the equity moment, when a woman is not defined by the people on the panel couch beside her.”

So there’s still work to do on equity, but I just say you three are people I admire in this space. It has been such a joy to be in this moment with you all and to have partnership with you all and the support. Again, the support and the partnership, that is just so critical to us all moving this needle and getting to the next 25 years, where people don’t remember how bad it used to be, they only think about how amazing we are.

And I just, again, thank you all so much for your support and for your time and for all the insights that you shared with us. So thank you. Thank you, Marcus. Thank you, Darren. Thank you, Rip.