PEAK Grantmaking feels like home.
Like many of you, I spent a week in March lamenting not being able to see, hug, laugh, and learn with my PEAK family in Seattle. It reminded me of my first conference – which was, coincidentally, also in Seattle. There was a happy hour at the Space Needle, and a storm blew into town just as many of us arrived. Some rushed to the elevators to get back to ground level. Others, like me, waited it out while getting to know some new people. The storm quickly cleared, and the scene it left behind was breathtaking.
Back to 2020, and here we are again – facing a collective storm that includes a global pandemic, a deepening economic crisis, and racial unrest nationwide. More than 51 million Americans have filed for some type of unemployment assistance, and eviction numbers are expected to be devastating as protections expire. My family and other circles have all suffered human and economic losses.
And in the midst of it all, I landed my ideal job, here at PEAK.
After I accepted the formal offer, I took a deep breath, and then I wept. It has been humbling to experience this milestone while so many others face distress and uncertainty. Yet, the opportunity to lead this organization into its next chapter was just the balance of emotions I needed to wipe my eyes and stand boldly in this moment.
It is a thrill and an honor to serve as PEAK’s first President and CEO. As is the case for any new leader, the question I’m most asked is, “What is your vision?” I’ll preface my answer with this: The future of PEAK is not about me, but rather my ability to serve as a beacon and guide for our community and for the sector.
Here are just a few of my aspirations:
To support and energize the PEAK team
As President and CEO, my role is ensuring that we have the capacity and structure to support our sustained success. First and foremost is maintaining an inspired, dynamic, and diverse staff by fostering innovative ideas, professional growth, and a commitment to excellence. A commitment to staff development and learning is critical in how we support our members, exceed our strategic objectives, and strengthen the sector.
To build a vibrant, inclusive community
While PEAK centers around grants management, we also welcome and support all grantmaking professionals. The aspirations we share transcend title and role; ultimately, it takes all of our contributions to advance equitable, effective grantmaking practices.
In navigating the limitations that the pandemic has imposed, we’ve deepened our understanding of inclusive community building. As the first philanthropy-serving organization to cancel its annual conference, the PEAK team deftly pivoted to deliver a month-long virtual learning experience that resulted in record attendance. Since then, we’ve held a series of community conversations, with hundreds of our members showing up. Keeping our physical distance has resulted in the discovery of new ways to connect that are inclusive and inviting, meaningful and moving. From here forward, we will commit to making hybrid models the plan for convening – ensuring we don’t miss out on the chance for more contributions, learning, and growth.
To drive equity with urgency
James Baldwin said that “ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” This moment of multiple, overlapping crises has laid bare to millions of Americans the daily injustices faced by so many, and how their own ignorance may have contributed. But to change things, we must move beyond declarations of support and simple actions: We must tackle the structural causes of inequity with intention and urgency.
Inside philanthropy, there are concrete actions we can take. With the release of our third Principle for Peak Grantmaking, Drive Equity, we are providing a pathway to create replicable, flexible models for operationalizing equity throughout every grantmaking system, practice, and policy.
Driving Equity includes helping you navigate difficult conversations about power and perceptions, and speaking directly about an economic system whose very foundation is based on slavery, gender disparity, and economic exclusion. The direction that funders have taken in the past few months – to be more responsive and less restrictive – is a testament to grant management professionals understanding the opportunities for us to work differently, and being ready to shift into action. This progress toward more equitable grantmaking practices cannot be a temporary measure, however: It must become part of our operating principles. PEAK is here to drive that imperative.
To empower our members to lead
The PEAK of today looks very different from the PEAK of our founding in 1996. We have evolved along with our members and the sector. As we plan to celebrate our 25th anniversary in 2021, we look back fondly at our founders – grants assistants and managers who stepped up as the “accidental technologists” and “finance whisperers” of philanthropy.
Their legacy is today’s grants management professionals. We step up as a community that is becoming more gender- and racially- representative – as well as inclusive and equitable. We are experts at streamlining. Our nonprofit partners have come to rely on us as a bridge between them and program staff. And, because so many of us “fell” into philanthropy, we bring a rich tapestry of skills and assets to our organizations.
We are learning and leading important work. We have more clearly defined roles, more equitable pay, and a career path that might even land us in the C-suite, if that’s our aspiration. And grants management is increasingly in the room and at the table, informing and contributing to organizational conversations about strategic vision, partnerships, funding, and vendor selection.
PEAK members are poised to lead, and PEAK will be there to support you every step of the way. Using our competency model as just one component, PEAK will help our members sharpen skills and knowledge beyond grants management and operations, helping you understand all areas impacting the philanthropic sector – including charitable investment vehicles, evaluation, knowledge management, data analysis, and building community wealth.
Your career will evolve. Your title may change. But no matter where you are, I am committed to ensuring that the PEAK community serves as a vital partner, a reliable source for best practices, and an ally ready to stand with you and your organization.
Together, we can embrace, and realize, our aspirations to improve the practice of grantmaking by ensuring that our organizations are led with the five Principles our community has codified: tying practices to values, narrowing the power gap, driving equity, stewarding resources responsibly, and – critically – a continuous commitment to learning, sharing, and evolving.
My commitment to you
I pledge to be a leader who listens, learns, and inspires. We will only achieve the future we seek, for PEAK and for philanthropy, by taking risks, driving innovation, and persisting undaunted.
My parents are not here to witness this professional milestone, but my heart has been made full by the reception I’ve received from you, as part of the family of professionals around me. I have a long memory, and I often think back on the conversations I have had with many of you around grants, philanthropy, and the world writ large. I know the zeal we share for this sector – coupled with our aspiration for philanthropy to do more – will achieve greater impacts for the missions and causes at the center of our work.
I look forward to the time when the PEAK community is back together in person – sharing conversations hushed and loud, catching up on all the hugs, fist bumps, and high fives that we’re storing up for the occasion. This storm will pass. My hope, and my aim, is that its clearing will reveal a scene of deeper humanity, greater goodwill, and a more enlightened philanthropic sector.
Satonya Fair, JD
President and CEO