Board Member Spotlight: 4 Questions for Christine Reeves Strigaro

What’s your favorite nonprofit resource?

I love reading updates from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Their regular “Roundup” newsletter and quarterly publication “Responsive Philanthropy” capture the zeitgeist of both philanthropy ideas and social justice initiatives in our sector. Perhaps I am a bit biased, because I used to work at NCRP. However, I wouldn’t want that fact to diminish my strong recommendation. I also greatly appreciate reports, newsletters, and thought leadership pieces from Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, Center for Effective Philanthropy, Neighborhood Funders Group, and Association of Black Foundation Executives.

What’s your favorite inspirational quote?

“My job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” – Mary “Mother” Jones. I simply love that line. My church’s lead pastor said it in a sermon, a few years back. Ever since, I have incorporated it into my presentations for foundation and nonprofit audiences. Frankly, if we are living on more than $2 a day, which one-third of the world cannot boast, we have significant comfort. This is not something to feel unescapably guilty about, but it is something to acknowledge. In a sector that is designed to do good, we need to make sure we don’t think too much above our problems—writing memos, attending cocktail hours, hearing speeches about poverty during lavish lunch plenary events, reading reports without seeing faces or hearing stories, etc. It’s a slippery slope. We could get altitude sickness, if we don’t ground ourselves in quotes like this one.  And I most certainly include myself as one of the “comfortable.” So, let’s afflict ourselves with uncomfortable questions—the tough and messy “how” and “why” questions that go beyond the “what” and “when.” And, let’s not just be advocates for causes. Let’s also be advocates for people who are advancing those causes and for the people right beside us. Basically, let’s be advocates for the advocates.  It’s not just about improving communities and changing the world. It’s also about lifting up the person beside us. Let’s be on a mission to help our co-workers realize their potential and worth. It’s not as glamorous as working on initiatives to save the planet, and it doesn’t fit as well on a resume; but that micro level work is a gift not just for our co-workers, but also for ourselves. And, it creates the most beautiful feedback loop.

As a runner up, I love the Simon Sinek quote, “Leadership is not about being in charge; it’s about taking care of those in your charge.” This type of servant leadership is both my goal and value.

Why are you a board member?

For many years, I have been focusing on advocacy, equity, and social justice elements of philanthropy, because I believe philanthropy is a tremendous vehicle for positive and inclusive social change. Today, I am board chair of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) and a board member of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management (ANM), because I came to the realization that no matter how successful an advocacy strategy or a philanthropy idea is, it can’t stand unless a foundation or nonprofit is deeply rooted in values and practices of strong capacity and leadership. I believe ANM is the go-to voice for capacity building needs of nonprofits and foundations and EPIP is the go-to voice for leadership.  Therefore, I am a thrilled board member, and I look forward to serving more and cross-pollinating ideas between the two. On a personal note, for a long time, I have been a beneficiary of others’ leadership. As a board member, I have an opportunity to be a producer of leadership that benefits others.

What does your work mean to you?

Helping philanthropy be the protagonist-making business.  Let me step back and explain. Throughout my career, I have poured myself into a passion for asking tough questions and pursuing an unquenchable desire to get to the heart of important matters.  When the United States is being impaled by over 90,000 gun related deaths a year—in our communities, schools, and streets;  when one in five children is food insecure—meaning he or she doesn’t know when or where a next meal will come; when each day, 160,000 people are homeless—the average population of a U.S. Congressional District is disenfranchised in many ways; when we, as citizens of the world, are living on the cliff of cataclysmic climate change—that is disproportionately affecting low-income people, I feel a sense of urgency and agency. I believe philanthropy is uniquely positioned to be the “Research and Development” funding for positive social, environmental, and economic change in the U.S. and abroad. Philanthropy can be a laboratory for good, inclusiveness, and ideas.  Additionally, I believe that if you love something, you are honest about it.  So, I try to be honest about all the things philanthropy does well and how I think it can change for the better. For example, I believe philanthropy can be more than the charity of “Haves” giving to “Have-Nots” based on what the “Haves” predetermine as the problem, solution, and path to connecting the problem and solution. Instead, I share a narrative of philanthropy that addresses root causes of problems, champions protagonists, and understands this is not easy, single-year, tidy work.  What do I mean by this?  Well, instead of casting “Haves” and “Have-Nots,” I believe philanthropy is able to ensure that people who are most adversely affected by problems are active, participatory, and inclusive protagonists. Protagonists are empowered decision-makers, not just recipients, poster-children, sidekicks, or victims. Protagonists are needed around board tables, in staff rooms, and across communities. In sum, I am dedicated — joyfully and doggedly dedicated — to helping philanthropy be the protagonist-making business. It’s not just a job or career for me.  I hope and pray it has become a form of ministry. Plus, when I get to work alongside people who I admire, respect, and constantly learn from, it’s a whole lot of fun.