Dr. Jan Young has a dog named Elvis. And he’s a source of inspiration for this distinguished philanthropy leader, who says she looks to Elvis, grantees, whatever she’s reading, and more for encouragement and motivation,” Young says, and she has proven adept that identifying, accepting, and using those miracles to further the causes she works for.
Young had distinguished careers in health care, education, and the military, and would’ve been an accomplished woman if she’d stopped there. But she says that even without knowing it, her work in those areas was preparing for a career in philanthropy. “The total sum of those experiences were things that I could draw from [in philanthropy],” Young says. A key in all her career areas: understanding the community she’s serving and using that to serve them more effectively.
Her introduction to philanthropy was as a programs officer, the first one in the foundation she worked for. Young says she is lucky to have entered the field of philanthropy without any preconceptions of what the experience was supposed to be like. “It created a wonderful opportunity to not be stuck in some kind of unrealistic expectation or bias about how things should be. It was a wonderful opportunity to explore, learn, engage, listen, and reflect—to try things that I didn’t know the outcome of. I didn’t know enough to be afraid, so I didn’t have fear of trying new things.” The position presented Young with a constant learning experience, a situation she tries to foster now for new people working for her at the Assisi Foundation.
In 2015, the Center for Effective Philanthropy profiled the Assisi Foundation and rated them highly for the evaluation guidance the foundation provides. Young says she initially didn’t think they deserved the high rating because she sees much work left to do in this area to reach their ideal, but she was gratified that their grantees shared a perspective she couldn’t see from the inside. She acknowledges that her goal is for Assisi to be best in class in all areas, and to achieve that goal will require the foundation to be “constantly evolving, developing different and better ways of doing things, and learning from others who are doing things differently.”
One way that Young learns from others is through her speaking engagements, where it’s not uncommon for her to ask the audience questions that aren’t rhetorical. She wants to hear from people and know their ideas. Participants at GMN’s 2016 conference opening plenary will hear Young speak about “doers, thinkers, and leaders,” and she hopes audience members speak up and share their own insights about the mission of leadership in foundations and throughout philanthropy.