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Leadership Culture Community

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
by Kate Seely
Director of Leadership, Culture and Community
Northern California Grantmakers


If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together. --African proverb


Today we are announcing that NCG is embracing three areas of focus: Regional Vibrancy and Sustainability, Equity and Social Justice, and one I am honored to steward, Leadership, Culture, and Community. 

This is the “stuff of life” for me: community, people dynamics, purpose and meaning, personal and professional development, the conditions that make us feel whole, seen, and valued, organizational values in action. Many of these concepts are inherent to us as humans: we are a social species, and, as noted in the eye-opening 75-year Harvard study on happiness, good relationships make us happy

If we spend so much of our time working to address these challenges and build new solutions, and quality relationships make us happy, then why not invest in work relationships and organizations that allow us to grow, be challenged, feel supported, and affect the impact we strive to have in our communities? I believe deeply that in order to address the seemingly insurmountable challenges we face, the first step is to invest in the connections we have with others who are working towards similar goals.

This is not easy work.  It requires us to be in (effective) relationship, and partnership, with others. This means a lot of listening, asking open and honest questions, sharing vulnerability, checking our assumptions, self-awareness, experimentation, learning, managing change, and so on. In philanthropy, this gets even more complex, as we’re talking about our relationships with our grantee, government, business, and community partners as well. Inevitably, we confront questions of power.

This type of work also takes many forms – whether it’s investing in one-on-one relationships or cultivating positive dynamics among whole teams. It’s also about building organizational culture that encourages and scaffolds these types of relationships

And so, as we launch a new focus area we are calling Leadership, Culture, and Community, NCG is turning to this work: The work of tending to ourselves – our personal growth and career development. The work of building and tending to our colleagues and our organizations – our cultures and our people – and the culture of our field writ large. And the work of building community – so that we know we’re in it together, and that each of our individual efforts adds to the collective whole.

As we begin, I want to know what you want to see us do in this space. What would make your relationships richer? What would make you feel more effective in your role? What do you need to grow? What do you think the field needs to grow? And what about your organization? We want philanthropy’s work to be successful, and philanthropy is made up of people like you. It’s YOU, and our wider community of mission-driven people and organizations, we want to touch with this work. 

NGC’s New Grantmaker Institute: Grantmaking for the 21st Century

Our next offering in this focus area is our New Grantmakers Institute: Grantmaking for the 21st Century. It’s an overview of the field, designed to equip participants with the skills necessary to be an effective grantmaker today. We’ll explore several questions together including: 

  • Where did this field come from? 
  • What is responsive philanthropy? 
  • What is California's role in the field? 
  • What is good financial due diligence of a potential grantee partner? 
  • How do I wield power and privilege effectively in my role? 
  • How does the national conversation around equity play into grantmaking? 
  • How do I build honest and trust-based relationships with grantees?

Join us if you're a new or seasoned grantmaker. The explorations you will embark upon here will serve as fodder for your continued growth and capacity to effect positive change in the world. You will gain both the skills and concepts to be an effective grantmaker, and you will have the opportunity to consider your role and career. 

Again, I am very excited to be leading this work at NCG, and I’d love to hear your thoughts as we dive in. Please do take the time to email me at, or just pick up the phone and give me a call. As this work simply cannot be done in a vacuum, I really look forward to collaborating with you in the future. In this instance, the cliche is actually real: together we can change the world.