Nicholas Pelzer, a Program Officer at the Wallace Foundation and EPIP Alum, joined the Board of Advisors in September 2015. Below is an interview with Nicholas conducted by EPIP Research and Communications Fellow Christie Saint-Vil.
Hi Nicholas. Can you start off by telling us a little bit about your journey with EPIP?
It’s been really great! My introduction to EPIP occurred during the first months of one of my first jobs in philanthropy. It was really a pleasure to have been welcomed at EPIP’s conferences. Seeing a lot of young people, and diverse groups of people, in a new field was incredibly encouraging. I’d remained loosely connected with the organization for the last couple of years. When the opportunity came to support the organization more formally as a board member, it was a chance for me to come full circle and pay back an organization that was helpful to me in my philanthropic career. I love being on this board. The members are very committed and dynamic. I am looking forward to continue working with them.
EPIP bridged issues and communities that connect with the philanthropic sector. Although we are diverse, we tend to have conversations amongst ourselves. How would you explain what you do to the communities you serve and what can they gain from it?
As someone who entered philanthropy in their mid-twenties, I recognize that philanthropy is not a “normal” career trajectory. It is not something that people see all of the time and not necessarily something that my community would quickly aspire to. Being able to understand what attracted me to the field, and being able to engage people in the field, is important. Describing the work I do, why it’s special, and how I strive to support the work of others is equally important. I’ve worked and gained experience in both the private and public sectors and I think I approach the field of philanthropy with great humility - especially towards our grantees that are actually doing the work. Some philanthropic organizations don’t always respect the grantees and believe they know what is best. I try to refrain from that by working to be a critical, yet humble, thought partner. I’m also working to bring to the table resources, technical assistance, and connections to other nonprofits and other relevant networks. Simply put, my job is to help people do their jobs better.
Given your work at the Wallace Foundation as a Program Officer, how do you think your cross-sector experience can reflect on EPIP’s Board of Advisors?
The Wallace the Foundation is very well-respected and has a strong reputation in the field of education and leadership development. The growth, support and training of leaders has always been my work. At the Wallace Foundation I am able to do that with large urban school districts across the country. This experience has been helpful for my work on the board. EPIP is for practitioners, especially newer practitioners, in the field. Many of our members are in their first or second job in philanthropy. Being able to bring that perspective to create programs and provide support, networking and development opportunities along a trajectory while figuring out how to build the capacity of professionals in this field, is something I am very passionate about. As I mentioned earlier, philanthropy holds a very unique spot and there isn’t exactly a roadmap for it. So trying to bring that perspective and leadership to the work that we do is some of the value I hope to bring.
Could you tell us about a new project or initiative that EPIP will take on that excites you? If not, could you tell us about a project that you've worked on thus far that was exciting? Why?
The opportunity to help onboard a new Executive Director and work with him to deepen my knowledge of the organization as he works through his strategic vision and planning is exciting. There is a certain amount of opportunity that comes along with having both a new ED and board in order to really reflect and think critically about the organization - specifically where it is and where it can go. The upcoming conference is also an important one for me. I haven't been able to attend a conference in some years, so I am also looking forward to participating in its development and programming. I am really looking forward to those two - jumping in and getting the ball rolling.
What specific contributions would you like to give to EPIP's mission during your time as a board member?
Becoming a member of EPIP’s board feels like the opportunity that I have been waiting for. It is the first time I’ve served on a board in this way, so I know I have a lot to learn. But, I believe I will bring value to it. For me, the excitement lies in the process and getting to know my fellow board members, EPIP members, the Chapters, and the programming. I would like to contribute by learning more about how we recruit members, as well as how the Chapters are developed, enhanced and supported. While I haven't worked officially with EPIP for very long, the reality is that I am passionate about getting more and diverse people into this field. I believe that this field, and the work that it can do when done well, is immense. I don’t think there are enough young people, and young people of color, entering the field. So, I look at this as an opportunity to widen, spread and diversify the folks that we get into the philanthropic sector. The more people we can get in here that actually reflect the communities we serve, and the organization’s mission that we want to support, the stronger this field will be. My goal, in general, is to strengthen it. EPIP is a great platform on which to do this work. Little did I know that meeting Rusty [Stahl, EPIP’s founder] many years ago at a conference would lead to where I am today. I can’t imagine what my philanthropic and nonprofit professional career would have been without that.
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