This post was authored by Paul Bachleitner, Project Director of Joint Affinity Groups (JAG) and was originally published on the JAG Blog. It appears here as part of the EPIP-JAG blogging partnership, “Wit and Wisdom”.
Navigating the path to leadership in philanthropy usually requires an off-road bike and a set of goggles. You’ll find leadership programs that polish your resume. Teach you about financial statements and evaluation metrics. Pair you off with a mentor. Seat you in front of a panel of CEOs.
It’s one of the basic purposes of grantmaking—to impact communities—but it can become an afterthought when you’re buried in drifts of paper and numbers in a foundation office cubicle. But of course, you can’t develop effective grant programs unless you engage with people on the ground in the communities you want to serve.
If you’re pursuing racial equity or social justice work, you’ll need to gain first-hand experience of inequities in diverse communities and learn about their needs, their sensitivities, and whether responses are truly equitable. This means you’ll need to reach beyond the common conception of leadership as professional development and seek out transformational experience working in communities. Some examples are:
- Designing a service project jointly with a community-led nonprofit
- Finding immersive educational experiences that reach beyond theory and place you on the ground engaging in practice directly in communities
- Listening to and lifting up messages from leaders in communities you want to serve
- Taking the initiative to volunteer for a leadership position in an organization that advocates for diverse communities
So, should you run down to a local nonprofit and sign up or attend more community events? Certainly. There are also other ways to ground your development in community.
Developing community experiences and relationships are a focal point of leadership development programs of EPIP’s People of Color Network and of two JAG partners: ABFE’s Connecting Leaders Fellowship and NAP’s Circle of Leaders Academy. Yes, these programs provide professional development, but balance it with a holistic, community-based approach.
There is the opportunity, too, to get more involved with JAG groups, all of which are rooted in the identity-based communities they serve. You can step into a leadership position at the chapter or local level and learn by doing. You can participate more in meetings and online and develop an understanding of how the work builds on community assets, cultural traditions, and engagement.
Whatever the route you choose, keeping communities top of mind is the first step.
Wit and Wisdom is a blogging collaboration between EPIP and JAG. Featuring a monthly entry from individuals within our networks, it highlights thought leadership about philanthropy, racial/social equity, and multigenerational change. Its lightening-hot interviews, essays, and case studies aim to provoke insightful discussion. We hope you will engage!