Storme Gray, Professional Development Program Associate, Council on Foundations
1. Why did you get involved with EPIP and can you share one of your most memorable or valuable experiences?
I actually got involved at the suggestion of my former boss, friend, and mentor. She suggested a few organizations for me to get involved in once I told her I wanted to make philanthropy my career - EPIP was one of those organizations. In EPIP, I found a home. I have met a lot of great folks and EPIP’s philosophy on philanthropy aligned closely with my own personal and professional beliefs.
I’ve been involved with EPIP since 2014 and have had a number of amazing experiences, so it’s hard to choose just one. My participation as an EPIP delegate in the 2015 People of Color Network for Policy Link’s Equity Summit was excellent. Summit attendees were from multiple sectors. There were politicians, federal government employees, philanthropy professionals -all committed to discussing equity and how it affects every decision and sector. Were it not for EPIP I would have never had the opportunity to go, let alone participate. I was able to meet other EPIP members from across the country. What was incredibly exciting was seeing in real life what I’ve always hoped for. That is, if we are going to talk about equity it really needs to be discussed by every sector and this summit did just that. It was very cool to see very important people coming together to explore how they are making a difference.
It’s my belief that if you are a member of a membership organization, you truly get out of it what you put into it. As such, I’ve tried very hard to remain engaged and involved in all that EPIP offers its members - when there is an opportunity to volunteer and serve, I have tried to do so. Since joining EPIP in 2014, I’ve joined the DC Steering Committee where I currently serve as Vice Chair; served on the 2015 and 2016 National Conference planning committees, and currently Chair the Plenary Committee for the 2016 Conference; was a part of EPIP’s People of Color Network Delegation which attended PolicyLink’s 2015 Equity Summit; and participated in EPIP’s Inclusive Leaders Cohort pilot program, where chapter leaders across the country discussed what it meant to be an inclusive leader in our professional work and in our personal lives. My involvement in EPIP has enabled me to stretch myself in ways I wouldn’t have imagined and to have made connections and friendships with other emerging leaders across the country. It’s really been great!
2. How did you come to be involved in philanthropy?
I fell into this work straight out of college; in my senior year I realized I no longer wanted to pursue graphic design (which was my major), and instead wished to find a career that enabled me to help others. During my college years I volunteered with a number of local non-profit organizations and wound up looking on Idealist for a position at non-profit. To my luck, I found a position opening at a small local family foundation. Though I didn’t know what foundations were at that point in time, I knew it was a job in the nonprofit sector that would allow me to help people. During my time at that foundation, I learned what it meant to be a grantmaker and support individuals and organizations that are doing very important work. After a few years I left that foundation and went to another where I was able to do more targeted work in grantmaking and program evaluation. It was a small operating family foundation, and our grant department functioned as program officers. I conducted site visits, built relationships with grantees, provided capacity support and training to our grantees, and made funding recommendations to our grants committee. I was with the grant applicants through the full life cycle of the grant process, and found the work to be very fulfilling. What’s more, as someone who grew up in one of this country’s poorest cities, Camden, NJ, there were a number of after school programs and resources I had access to - programs that were funded by the same kinds of organizations that I now worked for. Working in philanthropy has been a full-circle experience for me, and the ability to steer resources to the same kinds of communities that I grew up in was and continues to be a powerful experience.
3. What led you to your current work?
At one point during my career I took an unexpected detour away from philanthropy, as a former employer laid off several staffers as a part of their organizational restructuring. During that three year period where I was no longer working in philanthropy, I tried to remain connected to the sector by volunteering where I was able to. I knew I wanted to return to the sector, and was simply waiting for my moment. Philanthropic professionals tend to staff in their positions for a long time, so I remained hopeful and kept searching. I was fortunate to land a position at the Council on Foundations, where I have develop professional development opportunities and resources for the sector.
Currently, my role at the Council is to examine trends and topics in the field and translate that into knowledge (e.g. resources, professional development, convenings) that benefits the entire sector. As social justice is also a passion of mine, I try to infuse issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the work that we do as well.
Additionally, thanks to a connection that I actually made through EPIP, I’ve been able to do some independent consulting and freelance projects with InclusionVentures. They’re a consulting firm that develops, facilitates, and explores how DEI impacts the workplace and society at large, with a focus on the non-profit and tech sectors. Specifically, my focus is on coaching, facilitating, and training individuals and organizations within the social good sector to become more inclusive and effective in their work.
4. How do you cultivate your own leadership abilities?
I would have to say that I push myself, and never allow myself to feel complacent. I believe that growth is always on the edge of discomfort, so I constantly seek opportunities and situations where I am challenged. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. That’s just the kind of person I am and was raised to be. I also have found my own leadership style emerging as I continue to use my voice and act with authenticity. Each person has a special gift, completely unique to them - for me that seems to be person to person interactions. I enjoy connecting with people on an authentic level, discovering what makes them tick, and finding ways to support and encourage them to reach their own highest potential. Authenticity is one of the pillars of my being, and I do not know how to be precisely who it is I am and residing in the power that my authenticity gives me.
5. What's one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Hm...well, I’m a weightlifter and avid runner. I’ve run a couple of half marathons and even endured the Marine Corp marathon once (never again!), haha. When it comes to weightlifting, I do olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. Again, I’m all about challenging myself and proving to myself that I’m able to achieve more than what I might currently think I’m able to do.
6. What single piece of advice or quote do you have for fellow EPIP members?
Actually, I want to give my fellow EPIPers two pieces of advice. The first being, seek authentic relationships when networking and focus on what I call “building your tribe.” Find those individuals with whom you feel a connection that goes beyond the typical “transactional” networking relationship. Invest in other colleagues, get to know them, be a support and you will find yourself supported by others. The people in my tribe have proven to be invaluable to me, they have been and continue to be a growing source of strength and wisdom that keep me grounded and focused the work that connects us all. In building a network grounded in authenticity, you’re better able to speak to the actual talents, skills, and interests of your colleagues, should you ever be in a space where you can help them reach new levels in their own careers.
My second piece of advice would be to make the most of your EPIP membership. Attend the conference. Get to know your local chapter members. Volunteer for events, both on a national and local level. Come up with an idea for a webinar or even a blog post. There are so many ways in which you can get involved! EPIP has helped me feel more connected to the philanthropic community. Your time in EPIP is what you make of it, don’t let it go to waste.
How to connect with Storme on social media
You can find me on Twitter: @storme1913 - though, fair warning I don’t tweet frequently. You can also follow me/subscribe to my Facebook: Storme Gray, where I tend to post a lot about feminism, social justice, racism, and philanthropy. Ah, and of course there’s always LinkedIn: Storme Gray