My name is Ciara Coleman and I am a steering committee member of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) Michigan
chapter and a program manager at a national foundation. Like many of my early career peers, I am at a pivotal point in my life where I am recalibrating my career goals and redefining my aspirations. This process can be daunting, exasperating and even ambiguous at times. Thankfully, philanthropy has exposed me to some of the best and brightest people, programs and organizations that have motivated and inspired me to expand my perspective of a career in philanthropy.
Over the past year, my professional development focus has been on cultivating my career, expanding my knowledge and building relationships. I came to an apex on this journey as I participated in a mentoring program sponsored by the Council of Michigan Foundations. The exercises and knowledge I gained from the program reminded me of the active role I need to take to navigate my career path.
Below are some exercises, advice and reminders of what it takes to be keenly engaged in building your career. Whether you have a desire to enter or make a change within the field of philanthropy, my hope is that you will find the following recommendations advantageous as you continue to strive for success.
- Create a Career Vision Board. This is a great exercise to start defining and articulating (through words, phrases, and pictures) the work you want to do, the impact you want to have, the issues you care about and the communities in which you want to serve.
- Solicit 360-Degree Feedback. This is an opportunity to receive feedback from your peers and colleagues about your strengths, opportunities for growth, leadership behaviors and performance. Often times, others recognize strengths in you that you may not see or have even began to tap into. The exercise can provide valuable feedback that can be used to highlight and strengthen your skills and attributes but also an opportunity to gain insight on areas of improvement.
- Invest in an Executive Coach. I currently undergo executive coaching through Speak by Design and was also provided an executive coach through the CMF mentoring program. Both experiences have been hands-on in helping me to identify goals and strengthen specifics skills such as communication and executive presence and have provided me with the tools to build my personal brand. Just like in sports, coaches are there to help you win! They often provide you with constructive feedback, help you to discover your path and offer emotional support and encouragement.
- Join a Philanthropic Professional Network. Membership to a professional network allows you to stay connected to issues you care about; build and grow your professional and personal network; increase awareness of professional development opportunities; and provide opportunities to develop and strengthen your leadership skills. The Council on Foundations has a great directory of funder networks as well as the National Council of Nonprofits. EPIP is, of course, one of these associations. If you're not a member already, I recommend joining and getting involved!
- Strategically Invest Your Time. My most valuable learning experiences have occurred beyond the day-to-day operations of my job, but in internal and external workgroups, site visits and volunteering. EPIP, for instance, has been an incredible platform to grow and showcase my skills. As a member of the steering committee, I have the opportunity to co-create programming activities with some of Michigan’s most incredible, fearless, young leaders. It has been an amazing opportunity to cultivate relationships, stay connected to the field and build content knowledge.
- See Possibility in Everything. Despite your best interest to meticulously plan your life, you will likely encounter diversions. My own career diversions have contributed to my self-awareness of the knowledge and skills I possess and ways in which they can be creatively utilized and valuable to the field. Always stay true to yourself but remain flexible in your approach. Take advantage of stretch assignments, special projects and opportunities to master and learn new skills. Success is not always about moving upward. Careers are becoming more reflective of a marathon or a jungle gym versus a sprint or a ladder.
- Continuously Self-invest. One trait of highly successful people is that they never stop learning. They constantly invest energy, resources and time into developing themselves personally and professionally. Furthering your education or obtaining a certification are a few ways to self-invest, but avid reading and career planning and development are great investments as well. As you make self-investments you will begin to discover your passions, gifts, talents and unique attributes that can be leveraged as you progress in your career. Self-investment is a win-win. When you invest in yourself, you ultimately invest in your career and future!
Ciara Coleman is a program manager for family economic security at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. Prior to joining the foundation in 2012, she was a quality and safety intern at the Kellogg Company in Battle Creek, Michigan. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a nonprofit leadership and administration emphasis from Western Michigan University where she was awarded the MPA Scholar Award for Best Project Paper. She currently serves on the steering committee for the Michigan chapter of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) and is involved in various leadership and volunteer activities in her community.
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