I’ve spent three years as an EPIP member and serving on the EPIP-DC steering committee, in roles from committee member to Co-Chair. The most important and surprising thing I've learned is that it is possible to lead from where I am. Maybe some of you are like me. I can't pretend to expertise in any area of philanthropic practice or social justice. I don’t have a personal network packed with famous names. I sometimes avoid opening emails for days because what if I don't know how to answer it? Here’s what I’ve learned: That doesn’t matter. Just show up and pitch in. (Also, go open that email.) EPIP-DC taught me that I can lead by showing up, lending a hand where there are gaps or needs, and encouraging others to use their unique expertise.
But when I first joined EPIP, I had no inkling it would help me uncover my personal leadership style, although this is in fact one of the things they offer members. I joined because I was brand-new to philanthropy at the time, and looking for a place to learn about this new field I'd found myself in. The programs EPIP-DC was putting on at the time were great for this. Some memorable programs from that year included a guide to philanthropic advocacy and a kind of peer mentoring speed dating. I also attended a free pivot tables workshop that changed my life, because I'm a database administrator and those are the kind of things that change our lives. Most importantly, though, EPIP gave me access to a whole community of people who cared about the same things I did, who wanted to make philanthropy really do what it's named for, which is loving humanity. I met the people who wanted to use philanthropy, traditional tool of privilege, as a tool for equity, and had ideas about how to make that happen.
On the steering committee, I got to work with those people, learning from them and helping them. I’ll never forget interviewing one of my future colleagues during the steering committee application process. One of our application questions was about how the applicant had dealt with issues of diversity in their personal or professional life. I was startled, then chagrined, then delighted as the applicant turned the tables on our question and discussed moving beyond diversity, through inclusion and towards equity. It was not the first time an EPIP encounter had reminded me to push harder on the institutions I was a part of, or reminded me what the real goal of my work should be, but it was one of the most memorable. Over the past three years, EPIP-DC members have been a great sounding board for me in navigating institutional and personal advocacy, and I hope that the chapter has helped our members in the same way. (For what it’s worth, that application question now asks about diversity, equity, and inclusion- we take constructive criticism seriously!)
I’ve also gotten much better at having difficult conversations (translation: anything that might involve conflict of any kind ever) thanks to EPIP-DC. My colleagues have modeled, and in some cases coached me, in communicating directly about issues and problems. It turns out it’s very hard to be an effective leader if you can only talk obliquely about controversial topics, or are afraid to check in on someone who hasn’t been fulfilling their commitments lately. For me, it helped to be reminded that this was my colleague’s preferred communication style, or that people want and sometimes need a follow-up or a check-in. I’ve also learned how to gracefully say no thank you to an added commitment, and that you should let people know when you need a break. With an all-volunteer group, it turns out the more you talk about these things openly and without shame, the better.
As I prepare to roll off the steering committee, I'm proud of how I've changed and what EPIP-DC has accomplished so far. I hope that at least some of you have benefited directly from our work at the DC chapter- whether you attended EPIP conferences where our steering committee members have volunteered or presented, or you've learned something or made a connection at one of our events, or you really liked an article we shared in our newsletter that one time. I can tell you that EPIP-DC is at a really exciting place right now, poised to launch new ways to connect, learn, and develop our local talent, in service of creating a better world. And so is EPIP itself, with new capacities and strategies! So I invite you to show up—to your local chapter, to your local community, to the work—and pitch in. We need what you bring to the table, and we want to help you bring it.
If you’d like to apply to the EPIP-DC steering committee, our application is live now and closes November 10, 2017. You can reach us at [email protected]; we welcome your questions, feedback, or enthusiasm!