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PEAK Grantmaking

The Changemaking Ideas of the PEAK2022 Keynotes in Three Graphics

PEAK2022’s three keynote presentations made one thing clear: As a sector, we need to think more critically about how we center people within and outside of our organizations if we want to operationalize change and disrupt the status quo. PEAK, with sponsorship from Blackbaud, enlisted a graphic recorder to capture energy, inspirational moments, and key ideas from these sessions so that everyone in the community can download and share these resources to ignite changemaking conversations within your organizations and across the sector. 

And in case you missed any of these presentations, each keynote is now available on demand to the community. So, whether you are revisiting these ideas or encountering them for the first time, here are the key keynote messages from PEAK2022 Online. 


In our opening keynote facilitated by PEAK President and CEO Satonya Fair, Vu Le of Nonprofit AF and Borealis Philanthropy President Amoretta Morris encouraged attendees to activate themselves to challenge traditional systems, be bold by acting in ways that will shift power and money, and close the gap between what funders say and what funders do. And as Le opined, funders have met the current racial justice crises with words we want to hear, but not the practice change to back them up. “I don’t want equity to be a fad,” he said. “Equity should be like coffee. We should drink it every day in our practices.” 

Morris commented how, at Borealis, they drive equity by centering people in their practices from who they fund to who they hire. What’s key is giving historically underrepresented groups a seat at the table where their voices can actively influence outcomes. “Act in ways that will shift power and money,” she said. “There are questions I ask myself every day: Am I saying something that is going to challenge my role in this work? Am I taking risks that are worthy of the folks on the ground who are taking risks? If I’m not doing it, is it time for someone else to be in this role and do that?” Here, Fair encouraged attendees to ask themselves: “How can you be more substantive and additive in your role versus just checking a box?” 


For our midweek keynote, Aiko Bethea, founder of RARE Coaching & Consulting, and Megan Reitz, Hult International Business School Professor of Leadership and Dialogue, led a critical conversation on what psychological safety is and the foundational role it plays in fostering trust, wellness, and relationship-building. First, they explored how power dynamics lead to disconnects. Reitz commented that, as people become more senior in their careers, they both become more removed from the front lines of grassroots movements and overestimate their approachability and listening skills. “When you have titles or labels that convey authority, you’re often the last person to really notice the impact those labels have on other people’s ability to speak up,” Reitz observed. “If we are the ones who have the power, will our grantees tell us the truth? How do we address the power differential,” Bethea added, going on to emphasize the need for leaders to be learners and proactively invite those potentially challenging conversations. 

The talk then shifted to how people can feel empowered to speak up and speak out. “When we’re choosing whether to speak up, we’re doing an equation in our heads where we think about the labels we’re wearing, the labels others are wearing, and what that means,” Reitz said. Consequently, it can feel risky to be a lone voice challenging an organization’s ways of working. Here, both speakers spoke on how there are feelings of strength and safety in numbers. Find ways to form collectives—for example, by way of employee resource groups—to voice new ideas.  


For our closing keynote, PEAK’s Satonya Fair led a conversation with ABFE President and CEO Susan Taylor Batten, Marguerite Casey Foundation President and CEO Carmen Rojas, and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation CEO Sherece West-Scantlebury to discuss how they are each learning while leading, how they are responding to emergent issues in the sector, and what needs to happen within the sector at large to narrow power gaps and drive change. 

Leading with empathy was one major theme of the conversation. “The level of trauma that people are experiencing has created a different moment in leadership—one I wasn’t prepared for,” West-Scantlebury said. And that trauma extends from the staff at funding organizations to the nonprofits they partner with to the communities they seek to serve. For West-Scantlebury, that heightens the need to drive equity by relentlessly ensuring that “resources are getting to people, communities, places so those who are most affected get what they need.”

For Rojas, one concern is that the ways in which funders have changed their practices to meet this moment will disappear once pandemic and racial justice concerns start to feel less pressing. “We are backsliding into bureaucracy for no reason. When your mind-set is ensuring that people live another day, you give money out in a different way, which is pandemic giving,” she said. Fair added on this front: “Who is standing in the way of progress? Sometimes people stay stuck in their ways because no one is communicating what the future holds.”

For Taylor Batten, one structural barrier to change is the culture of individualism that is so pervasive in the sector. “Collaborative funding is the hardest thing for funders to do,” she said. “The way in which we will leverage the full power of philanthropy is to put the resources together.” 

But for change to continue, and stick, philanthropy needs to adopt the mindset that it is always in rapid response mode. “How long this moment lasts is up to us,” West-Scantlebury said. “Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal.”

Artist: Toya Beacham