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PEAK Grantmaking

Thankful for This PEAK Community

I’ve been reflecting on my career as I prepare to take my next step in philanthropy following 11 years in my role as PEAK Grantmaking’s executive director. I feel so fortunate to have spent my career helping make the world a better place, and the overriding reason I’ve been able to do so is the support, encouragement, and education this amazing community has provided me. Thank you.

Just like many of you, I came into grants management somewhat by accident. I’m sure that someday I’ll meet someone who grew up dressing as a grantmaker for Halloween, and aimed their sights toward a foundation dream-job; my entry point was an ad for part-time clerical help in something called “community relations,” which I answered 25 years ago as a college student. It turned out to be a role in corporate philanthropy, something I had not even known was an option.

Because PEAK Grantmaking didn’t exist back then, mistakes were my main source of training; I also spent a good bit of time reinventing wheels.

My first introduction to PEAK was at the 1996 Council on Foundations conference. There, a group of New York grants administrators convened a discussion on grantmaking practice. For a full two hours, the overcrowded roundtable talked about ways to improve practices and be more effective—and I knew I’d found my people.

Over the years, this community helped build my competencies as a grantmaker, giving me the ability to make critical, concrete improvements in practice. With ideas from my colleagues and training through PEAK education events, I reduced costs for my foundation and our grantseekers, implemented stronger controls, improved transparency, collected grantseeker feedback, and measured impact more effectively. By equipping me to lift my head above the never-ending “to-do” list, PEAK reminded me that all of those tasks and deadlines rolled up into something significant—that grantmaking practices matter, especially as the organization’s clearest, most visible way to express its values. Simply by understanding the importance of our work, I was empowered.

With the PEAK community’s help, I was able to lead change in my organization. Of course, it wasn’t easy. I had to build strong written and verbal communication skills, and a toolkit of persuasive arguments. I had to marshal courage to invite myself to meetings and voice new ideas. I had to be patient, giving my colleagues time to process my recommendations, and wait for opportunities to push improvements. I developed those qualities by following the amazing examples of my colleagues in the PEAK Grantmaking community, who have all been so generous in sharing their experiences.

PEAK also gave me the opportunity to step up and lead, first as a member of the national advisory committee that became PEAK’s first board of directors in 1998. As part of a working board, I gained experience in governance, chapter management, event planning, fundraising, volunteer management, and a host of other responsibilities I might otherwise not have had the opportunity to learn. Without that leadership experience, I don’t think I would have been given the job of executive director when the opportunity arose, and which has meant so much to me.

I want to thank you for all of this, especially the amazing opportunity to lead PEAK over the past dozen years. Together, we’ve grown our community five times, from a membership of 800 to 4,000-strong. Together, we’ve worked to develop efficient, effective, and equitable practices. Together, we’ve defined what it takes to be an expert in this role, and a roadmap—the Grants Management Professional Competency Model—for achieving that expertise. Together, we’ve coalesced around a new call-to-action, the Principles for Peak Grantmaking, which will focus our efforts to develop the most effective grantmaking practices possible. I’m so excited to see philanthropy continue transforming for the better, leading to greater support for grantees and a greater understanding of our joint impact.

As I rejoin the PEAK community as a member, I am so thankful for the PEAK Grantmaking board; the committed, talented PEAK staff led by Dolores Estrada; and our invaluable volunteers corps. The future of PEAK is in their capable, dedicated hands.

Michelle Greanias

Michelle Greanias is the former Executive Director of PEAK Grantmaking, serving from 2008 to November 2019.