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Best and Worst Advice: New Grantmaker Faculty Weigh In

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Join us September 12th and 13th to learn more about ethical and effective grantmaking, staying accountable, and achieving our highest purpose.

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In philanthropy, there's no shortage of advice. The faculty of NCG's upcoming 2019 New Grantmakers Institute (NGI) look back on the best (and worst!) advice they received as they entered the field and offer their own advice to this year's incoming grantmakers.

Our New Grantmakers Institute faculty work hard to center nonprofit partners in their work, continue their own learning, and have a hand in positive social change. Read on to hear what's fueled their passion and purpose in philanthropy.

Jamie Allison, Executive Director | Walter & Elise Haas Fund

  • Always hire for attitude, not expertise.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of having longevity at one organization. There is power in establishing roots and having a long tenure.

The worst piece of advice she received was: 

“'There’s no reason to be stressed at work because there are no emergencies in philanthropy.' I 100% disagree with this perspective. I have a sense of urgency about my work because there are emergencies all around us being experienced in/by the very communities philanthropic institutions proclaim to care about. Dismissing pain, hardship, and marginalization as “non-emergencies” because they are not happening within the foundation’s office is disrespectful, short-sighted, lacks compassion…I could go on."

Angie Chen, Senior Program Officer | The Libra Foundation

  • Don’t choose a job based on the title or the prestige of the organization, but based on who you spend your time with and what you spend your time doing.
  • If you’re not going to really get in the dirt with grantees, then give them the resources and get out of the way.

Meaghan Calcari Campbell, Program Officer, Marine Conservation Initiative | The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

  • Don’t let all the zero’s go to your head! You still put on your pants the same way as everyone else. And, you are just one rung up higher in the food chain than your grant partners, and your foundation board could decide to cut your program tomorrow.
  • Try completing your own grant and reporting templates, and then decide whether or not they are worth it.
  • Understand where you sit on the spectrum of strategic, donor-driven philanthropy and responsive philanthropy and be explicit about it with grant partners to save everyone the confusion, time, and heartbreak.
  • When a grantee is hustling you and putting on the full court press, realize they are just doing their job. Respect that job, and find ways to have shared humanity together.
  • Philanthropy is an art more than a science. There is no handbook or training, nor is there accountability. So, steep yourself in critical thinking about philanthropy, your assumptions, and what possible unintended impacts can come from your actions.

David Greco, Founder | Social Sector Partners

When I first started with Nonprofit Finance Fund, one of the other VP’s told me, “Learn the business from the ground up. You only have this open opportunity to be “stupid” so take advantage of it and ask questions.” I always have appreciated that advice and it was absolutely true. I did take advantage of it and sat in client meetings as the second chair just to learn, I had junior associates teaching me the ropes, and I asked lots of questions. As leaders, we often feel we have to know it all and be perfect. But another great piece of advice I received along the way was, “People do not want perfect leaders, they want authentic leaders.”

Pia Infante, Co-Executive Director | The Whitman Institute

  • When I first took this role, a mentor said to take all the compliments about how smart and funny you are with a grain of salt and stay humble. That has proven to be the best advice! Stay humble.  
  • It’s important to remember that in professionalized philanthropy, “we can operate without accountability to the communities that we serve.”

Allison Magee, Executive Director | Zellerbach Family Foundation

"You have flexibility," said to me by the late Bill Zellerbach. It's not particularly poetic, but it's a wonderful reminder of the privilege we have in this sector in that we generally get to make our own rules, and a challenge to use that privilege to effect radical change.  

Sara Matlin, Bilingual Counsel | Bolder Advocacy Initiative

Know your power and honor others’ power. I may be an expert in the rights and responsibilities of funding and engaging in nonprofit advocacy, but I have the good fortune of working with funders and nonprofit advocates who are experts in their communities and their issues. We are more effective as attorney-trainers when we honor the wisdom and connections of the funders and organizations we get to work with every day.

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