Three weeks ago, the two of us stepped into our new roles as acting Co-CEOs of Northern California Grantmakers. That was the same day the world learned we would need vigorous hand-washing and distance to protect each other and everyone in our community from a new rapidly spreading virus. A most unusual start in our roles. But, then again, these are most unusual times.
A few weeks ago I was asked to help welcome NCG’s inaugural cohort of Rising Leaders with a few words on leadership. At first I was daunted, not sure exactly what I might have to offer on this topic. So I did what I always do when I am trying to get my head around something: I made a list. In the spirit of reflection and learning, here’s what I’ve learned so far.
I have been thinking a lot about community lately. I am moved to do so by several things: the quality, character, and noise level of the current public discourse concerning policy and politics, the ongoing challenges people living in the Bay area and beyond navigate daily as they strive to live into their full potential, and the way my heart is beating as I contemplate leaving a place I have lived for over twenty-seven years.
Yesterday was a blur. Immediately after we finally hit “send” on the announcement of my departure from NCG to become the CEO of Fenway Health in Boston I was besieged with good wishes via email and text and social media. It felt good. But tonight, as I sit in my living room reflecting on the day, I am feeling some sadness. I am really, really going to miss all of you.
In her five years at the helm Ellen has overseen dramatic growth at Northern California Grantmakers, doubling its membership and tripling its budget. NCG now ranks as among the top five largest regional philanthropic associations in the nation. Leaders spoke of her outsized influence in a region with one of the largest concentrations of wealth in the world.
When I started at NCG early in 2015 I spent a lot of time listening. Like, a LOT. During close to 200 meetings in my first year, I sought to learn what was strong about our work, what members of our community wanted more (and less) of from NCG, and – perhaps most importantly – what folks needed to increase their impact and to remain connected to their sense of purpose, their agency, and their community of colleagues. The guidance I received was remarkable in its continuity – and in its vehemence.
When NCG stepped into the policy space two years ago, we did so knowing that it would require us to be bold and lean deeply into our mission to bring philanthropy together to build healthy, thriving, and just communities. With the 2020 election around the corner, there is much at stake for California and our region. There has never been a more appropriate or important time for philanthropy to be advocating and using its voice in service of building a Better California for all.
When we announced a few years ago that NCG would be taking up racial equity as a central part of our work we received praise, and we also encountered some skepticism. Many cautioned us that everyone seemed to be “getting into equity” and that we’d better be sure we had something distinct to add. We have taken that to heart.
It takes a lot of time to put together a day-long conference. We think about that when we consider the other things we will not be able to do, or will have to do later.
This region is widely considered to be the birthplace of the civil rights movement, but was also the center of power for the Confederacy, the heart of the Jim Crow South, and at one time a thriving regional marketplace for the trafficking and sale of hundreds of thousands of human souls.