Come for the Plenary Speakers; Leave with Determination

The countdown is on to PEAK2019, PEAK Grantmaking’s one-of -a-kind annual conference dedicated to improving how grants get made. Even after 13 prior conferences, I’m eager to be there.

I know from past experience that we come to the conference looking for new ideas and best practices that can help us strengthen our organizations and be leaders of positive change. The conference excites us to address areas critical to our organization and to the external stakeholders we work with regularly. We leave ignited to strategically implement lessons we’ve learned, to move ideas into action.

However, the first stumbling block that we experience once we get back can be discouraging. It can leave us wondering how or whether to continue, how or whether to keep trying to move our cause forward in a helpful direction. If we allow our efforts to be derailed, they can become stagnant and get nowhere.

That’s why the conference also offers us motivation, encouragement, and examples of how to be positive change agents.

PEAK2019 features three plenary speakers whose powerful stories of turning causes into movements can sustain us as we try to do the same.

Jess Ladd, the founder and CEO of Callisto, is a survivor of sexual assault who built a technology platform to support other survivors, combat sexual assault, and advance justice. After her experience, she asked: How can we, as survivors, get our stories out, so sexual assault doesn’t happen to someone else—especially on college campuses where, in most cases, you know your assailant.

Her answer took into account the need to build trust with survivors. Callisto’s reporting technology starts with check-the-box questions and builds to questions that allow survivors to tell their narratives in their own way. What’s more, the data can be aggregated, analyzed, and translated into prevention policies. Now, instead of helping just the survivors, the system blows the whistle for the larger community. A movement can grow from the technology.

As grants managers, we’re building applications that grantees will complete regularly. Are we requesting information in a format that enables grantees to tell their story—their way—and builds their trust? Will we be able to mine our information to support change?

Edgar Villanueva, the author of Decolonizing Wealth, gives us a look inside philanthropy—from his work in the field. Like Jess, Edgar uses his own experience as inspiration to drive change, starting within his organization. Edgar proves that by starting with change inside your organization and then expanding that change to the wider community, you can achieve your mission.

This can be difficult for us in grantmaking. How do we address the need for change in our organizations?
It will require self-assessment and then organization assessment. Edgar reminds us to start with conversations, be authentic, and build out from there.

Eli Cloud, the co-founder of Sister Supply in Memphis, comes at change from a slightly different direction. She’s the type of committed activist who acts despite apprehension or lack of support. (By comparison, interested activists only do what’s convenient, based on circumstances.) Eli saw a need. She looked around for an organization that addressed it. When she realized there wasn’t an organization doing the work required, she created one.

Her lesson for grantmaking professionals is about awakening people to a need and taking the lead on a cause that doesn’t overwhelm you, a cause that’s right-sized for your goals. Eli teaches us to break off one piece at a time and accomplish that piece before taking the next step to achieve our cause. She recommends we stop thinking too much about the idea and simply start the call to action.

These three speakers have so much knowledge and motivation to share with us. I’m convinced that when we return home from PEAK2019, we’ll have not only clear tactics to strengthen our organizations but also the sustenance and determination to lead the way to positive change.

Ursula Stewart, grants manager at New York State Health Foundation, is a co-chair of PEAK Grantmaking’s 14th annual conference. She also co-chaired the PEAK2016 conference.

Rachel Tillman

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