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Conference Reflections: The Emerging Leadership Manifesto in Philanthropy

Efrain PicHi, I’m Efrain Gutierrez. I work for FSG and I’m the brand new co-leader of the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy  (EPIP) Seattle Chapter. I attended my first EPIP National Conference two weeks ago in Chicago and it was an incredible experience. It was energizing to be among a group of diverse and passionate mid-career professionals that will become the future leaders of the philanthropic sector. As I reflected on what I learned during the conference around this year’s theme – LEAD – I identified four recommendations for current and emerging leaders in philanthropy: be humble, know who you are not, listen, learn and adapt. I believe these recommendations represent the beginning of a paradigm shift in the way we exercise leadership in the sector. Let’s discuss each of them:

1. Be humble – The philanthropic sector is realizing that isolated efforts to solve social problems are not creating long lasting social change. During the conference, I observed many leaders accept with humility that their organizations can’t solve social problems alone. There is a clear need to step back, understand the system your organization is part of, and collaborate with other organizations. The ability to reflect and better understand your limitations, and the implications for collaboration appears crucial for emerging leaders in philanthropy given the resource constraints and increased need in the sector.

2. Know who you are not – Increased collaboration in the sector is requiring leaders in philanthropy not only to be aware of what they bring to the table, but also to understand what they don’t. During a session supported by The Allstate Foundation and facilitated by Deborah Meehan of the Leadership Learning Community around the concept of collective leadership, participants expressed that the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes will be essential as we move to more collaborative philanthropic efforts. This applies at many levels: if you have experience as a funder, you may not fully understand the experience of the nonprofits you are collaborating with; if you are a man, you need to hear the opinion of a woman sitting across the table; if you are white, reach out to people of color to understand their perspective; if you work in a city, hear the experience of organizations in rural areas before making any assumptions. The notion that there are many things we don’t know about the organizations we work with and the people we serve will be crucial for emerging leaders in philanthropy.

3. Listen – Realizing that there is a lot we don’t know gives us the opportunity to step back and listen. Many of the conference participants working in foundations were very vocal about the need to work more closely with their grantees, develop long lasting relationships, and create avenues for legitimate conversations and feedback. Participants also recognized the need to listen and learn more from program beneficiaries, particularly from women and other underrepresented groups that are frequently ignored. As we move to increased collaboration in the sector, emerging leaders in philanthropy will have to actively listen to the organizations and individuals participating in their organization’s philanthropic efforts.

4. Learn and adapt – During the conference, I noticed that more and more organizations are moving away from traditional linear approaches to social change and are starting to engage in social innovations. As funders start embracing complexity, leaders in the philanthropic sector are going to need evaluation and learning tools that can help them reflect on their experiences, learn from others, and adapt the program’s strategy in real time. Emerging leaders in philanthropy will need to create learning organizations where data supports learning and informs future strategy.

Finally, if there is something I heard loud and clear during the conference, it’s the notion that we are all in this together and we need to find better ways to collaborate – we need leaders that are willing to listen and give everyone the opportunity to participate and be heard. We need to come together if we really want to solve the most challenging social problems.

collective 2I want to leave you with this graphic recording from the collective leadership session. I invite you to learn more about the EPIP community and also to share your thoughts below. What are other elements of this emerging leadership manifesto?

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