How to Spot a Next Gen Fellow

By Nathaniel James, Exponent Philanthropy

How do you know if Exponent Philanthropy’s Next Gen Fellows Program is right for you or someone at your foundation?

As we note in the program details, the 6-month training fellowship is designed for “dynamic leaders roughly 18–35 years old who are involved in all types of foundations as current or soon-to-be trustees or staff.”

Given that many applications and even more queries are rolling in as the April 10 application deadline approaches, I thought it may be helpful to go deeper in describing characteristics that make for a good match between the program and a prospective applicant. This might be especially helpful for foundations that have several 18- to 35-year-olds who might be interested.

Although the characteristics below are not comprehensive, and not every applicant will share all of them, we are looking to build a group of participants who demonstrate a good balance of these. We hope this will help you make decisions about applying and, if ready, meet the April 10 application deadline.

Curiosity. The Next Gen Fellows Program covers a lot of knowledge. Including a 2-day training intensive in June, 2.5-day conference in October, monthly work on a personal learning agenda with a mentor and individually, and two topical webinars we plan to add in the summer and fall, the program offers well over 50 hours of learning time.

Prospective applicants should ask themselves, Am I hungry to learn about philanthropy? What are my interest areas? Am I prepared to learn some things outside those interest areas and stretch at least a little outside my comfort zone?

If you are a member of the current generation, are the next gen members of your foundation (trustees or staff) starting to ask tough or creative questions? If so, this may be a good year for them to apply for the program.

Passion and self-awareness. In addition to gathering some basic info in the application, we ask two important questions:

  • What have you enjoyed most about your experience with philanthropy to date?
  • Please finish this sentence: “Completing the Next Gen Fellows Program will allow me to…”

Why these questions? We hope that incoming fellows are starting to personally experience the passion and joy that we know drives effective philanthropy for the duration. We also look for applicants who have started to reflect on the difference their participation can make as they develop their approach to philanthropy.

Confidence. The program supports participants from across the confidence spectrum, which is something worth noting as one applies. Perhaps a prospective applicant is quite confident and wants to use the fellowship to gain knowledge and develop new relationships. It is great to have some strong voices in the cohort, especially if they are also prepared to practice their listening skills. The program also can be a place to build confidence. Let’s face it: Philanthropy can be an intimidating sector and one where formal education and other careers do not always provide preparation and context. Add to that family and/or employment dynamics, and it is quite understandable why someone in the next generation could use some support from trainers and peers in learning how to speak up and participate fully.

Connection. The Next Gen Fellows Program is enriched by the personal and professional connections participants make with one another. We know that, for younger people in philanthropy, connecting with people beyond their home institution is especially important. In fact, alumni often say that comparing their experiences with the practices of others’ philanthropies is one of the most valuable elements of the program. If someone is ready to speak honestly from their philanthropy experience, listen openly to others, and offer support, those are very good signs that he or she will make the most of the Next Gen Fellows Program.

Learn more about the 2017 Next Gen Fellows Program, meet our alumni, and apply by April 10 >>

Nathaniel James is a program director at Exponent Philanthropy. He leads the Next Gen Fellows Program and Master Juggler Executive Institute, and manages resources on family philanthropy, effectiveness skills, and transition points.

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