I recently accepted the honor of being named “Outstanding Foundation Professional” by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Golden Gate Chapter. (That’s me at the event with my parents, from whom I learned from a young age to listen to where other people are coming from.)
This award honors a foundation professional who initiates or supports creative nonprofit efforts and develops philanthropic partnerships with organizations and communities in exceptionally effective or unique ways. Receiving this award as a seasoned operations professional signaled something big and meaningful: it’s not just program people who can take thoughtful, visible action at their foundations.
In crafting my acceptance speech, I realized that I deeply value empathy and perspective, and that nonprofit board service grounds my decisions about grants processes in the perspectives of potential recipients.
Simply put, I try to walk in others’ shoes and understand how, as foundation staff, we can improve difficult or confusing requirements for those we seek to help. Why make accessing resources harder for people who are often spread too thin and trying to focus on their mission? I center the grantee experience in my work.
There is a dichotomy in philanthropy of the givers and the receivers. Those sides don’t have to be mutually exclusive (for example, community foundations play both sides), but as someone who is regularly on both sides, the power differential is glaringly visible. That power differential often serves to reinforce the dichotomy of those who have resources and those who want them. But it’s also a false dichotomy in many ways; on both sides, I also see shared humanity.
My leadership and views on nonprofit work is based in this reminder that we’re all in it for the mission.
I try to use my access and proximity to power to help great nonprofit organizations. This comes through in my board service with Outdoor Afro, an amazing national organization focused on African American connections and leadership in nature and also in making introductions and connections in ways that are mutually beneficial. For example, I was able to introduce a national disability rights organization to a foundation grants management colleague who is passionate about human rights and dignity. That introduction led to ongoing multi-year renewal grants to this organization. While they did a lot of relationship-building and work to make it happen, my part really was that simple: I just made an introduction.
Anyone in our field can do this—you don’t need permission. I have been a member of PEAK for 8 years, one of the things they have focused on for the past couple years is tying values to practice, we can all do this in our work. Today, many grants managers and operations leaders are in powerful positions with a lot of capacity to influence philanthropy. My ask of you is to consider the requirements you’re putting on anyone who approaches you for funding, to put yourself in their shoes, and to recognize how hard most foundation’s processes are to go through. And, think about how you use this proximity to listen and translate what you learn into thoughtful connections.
I’m calling on everyone who works for a mission to think: How can I reduce burden for the people I’m aiming to support? How can I leverage my access to support the issues and communities right here that I care about? This can be as simple as decreasing the number of questions that you require on your grant application or integrating Candid’s API’s with your software so that information from a nonprofit’s GuideStar profile doesn’t have to be re-entered or displaying data from a previous grant entry to have applicants confirm instead of re-entering.
This year, I plan to work with Arnold Ventures’ staff and grantees to hear feedback about their experience working with us, and then to incorporate suggestions into our processes and working relationships. I want to learn where we can do better as a partner, and then prioritize things that we can fix. Over the years, my best work has come from empathizing with peoples’ experiences and perspectives. This work is never done, and I never want to stop doing it.