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.

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You Talk With Your Mentor About What Exactly?

By Nathaniel James, Exponent Philanthropy

mentoringMentorship is an elusive idea. Magazines are full of advice on building and maintaining most kinds of relationships (employment, marriage, parenting), but there are few road maps for finding and nurturing mentorships. This despite the fact that most, if not all, leaders will include the support they received from mentors as part of their recipes for success.

Recently I was at a dinner party with at least 10 people roughly my age, and I was expressing gratitude for one of my mentors. The other guests looked at me a little awkwardly. When I asked if anyone else had an important mentor in their lives, not a single one said yes.

No wonder, then, that when matched with a mentor in a formal setting like our Next Gen Fellowship Program, young people can feel a little lost. As leader of the fellowship, the mentor matches I make are the most opaque part of the program—meaning I’m not always in-the-know about exactly how mentors and mentees are approaching the relationship.

This past month, I set out to discover what makes this component productive and effective. I talked to 22 participants, both mentors and mentees.

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Tips on Building a Career in Philanthropy

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

For career-minded professionals working in philanthropy—whether in program or administrative roles at foundations, philanthropy support organizations, consulting firms, or academic centers—the field can be a difficult space to navigate. Career paths tend to be limited and unconventional, and, although funders are making great strides in going public with their giving, the field has yet to overcome its tendency toward anonymity.

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in an open and honest conversation with Kathleen Enright, CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, on building a career in philanthropy. Many thanks to EPIP DC for organizing the program.

Here are my takeaways—some offered candidly by Kathleen and others from my personal experience.

How do I pursue a career in philanthropy?

The answer isn’t what we might want to hear. Job openings are rare, and a direct approach—zeroing in on a specific organization—isn’t necessarily fruitful or wise. So what steps can you take?

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Tips for “Networking” at a Conference

By Jen Bokoff, Grantcraft

Reposted with permission from GrantCraft; the original post appeared on GrantCraft’s blog earlier this year.

I’m asked all the time how I approach networking at conferences. To be completely honest, “networking” can feel like a dirty word to me because it connotes the transactional business card swap where success is defined by the number of cards in your conference tote bag. Instead, I like to label networking done correctly as “connecting,” where success is defined by the quality of interactions and the potential for sincere follow up.

With that disclaimer, here are some pointers I can offer:

  • Do your research beforehand. If attendee lists (either specific names or organizations) are available, make sure you know background for ‘important’ people in the room, and ask colleagues/NetSuite about existing relationships.
  • Don’t spew information. Instead, ask people questions about themselves and their work.
  • Don’t make people feel like you’re trying to sell them something. Instead, listen to what’s on their mind and respond to that – work-related or not.
  • The best conversations are those that aren’t about work at all. Get to know people to really build a relationship. That often means showing a little of your personality. You can maintain privacy, but think about a few topics you could be comfortable talking about outside of work and don’t be afraid to do that.
  • Be careful what you say about other people – you never know who knows who.
  • The best networking often happens during meals and evening activities, so pace your energy levels to make those times count.
  • Never feel stuck or put all of your eggs in one conversation basket; it’s understood that attendees at conferences are there to talk with many people, so it’s always ok to politely excuse yourself. Thank people for their time chatting and end on a good note. And, if you intend to connect again in the future, share that intention; if you don’t, don’t falsely say you’d like to.
  • Write something to jog your memory on the back of people’s business cards as is helpful, and transfer that information into your address book system as a note along with the contact information.
  • Make note of what article or website(s) would be helpful to send to someone in follow up to your conversation, and then follow up! Within a week is usually a good timeline, but up to two is fine.

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Young Leaders: Take Charge of Your Professional Development

Next Generation RetreatThis guest post is written by Samantha Alarie-Leca, program officer with The West Foundation in Indianapolis, IN, and member of Exponent Philanthropy’s 2014 class of Next Gen Fellows.

For emerging young leaders at small-staffed foundations, the pathway to professional growth, advancement, and impact may not always be clear. But, with creativity, courage, and intention, we can take charge of our own development.

There is no perfect formula for how to tackle society’s biggest challenges. Nor is there a ubiquitous road map for success as a program officer, executive director, or trustee of a highly effective grantmaking organization. In fact, this ambiguity is often acutely experienced by individuals working alone or with few colleagues, especially early in their careers.

Whereas other fields or large foundations have formalized training opportunities—and even small foundations may have step-by-step credential tracks—the  onus frequently falls on staff to self-identify professional development opportunities while juggling myriad responsibilities.

The good news is that assuming an entrepreneurial approach to learning leads to great results. In fact, the benefits are exponential, creating opportunities to contribute more meaningfully to our organizations, the philanthropy field at large, and our own sense of professional fulfillment.

Not sure where to get started? Below are five ways I personally stretched my professional muscles over the past year to gain greater clarity and confidence in my role as program officer at a small-staffed foundation.

1. Join or convene a peer learning cohort. Learning from the experiences of your peers is invaluable. Consider inviting philanthropy peers from your community to monthly or quarterly brown-bag lunches to foster a reciprocal exchange of ideas and relationship building. Propose a focused question or article to discuss to catalyze more robust conversations. Learn about Exponent Philanthropy’s Next Gen Fellows Program

2. Find a mentor (or two). Choose one or two skills to hone, then identify several individuals whose acuity in those areas you admire. Reach out to see if they are available to mentor you as you progress toward your goals. Some individuals will be too busy to mentor you regularly, but may be open to sharing a cup of coffee or an informal one-time conversation that can be equally helpful.

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Conferencing to the Max

By Hanh Le, Exponent Philanthropy

The past weeks in DC have been big ones for philanthropoids, or those of us who work for philanthropic organizations. There were conferences by Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP), Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Council on Foundations (COF), Joint Affinity Groups (JAG)

Conferences are a worthwhile part of our work, but, after being out and about on the conference circuit, I  find myself back in my office with a pile of paper, a head full of ideas, and an overflowing email inbox. Guess which one screams loudest for my attention? It’s hard to resist the call of email, so I do my best to stay on top of urgent emails while I’m out. That helps ensure I can dedicate that important time right afterward to following-up on ideas, actions, and connections that proliferate at good conferences.

Soon after returning to the office last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Exponent Philanthropy’s Member Services Committee. It was fortuitous timing, as this seasoned group of conference attendees generously shared their tips for maximizing the experience when out and about at conferences.

On planning ahead

  • Dana Karlsson Campion of the Cedar Tree Foundation in Boston proactively builds conferences into her work plan, including a block of time immediately after each conference to follow up on action items that emerge during the conference.

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Professional Development: Data Show It Unlocks Your Inspiration

By Ruth Masterson, Exponent Philanthropy

I am, at least in theory, a big believer in taking breaks. I’ve found support in New York Times articles like To Stay on Schedule, Take a Break and Relax! You’ll be More Productive. But, if you’re anything like me, it’s easier said than done. 

Mix my belief in the power of breaks with the wisdom in Dori Krieger’s recent blog post Get Out More in 2014, which talks about the value of person-to-person connections, and we have a perfect recipe for taking time out for professional development. It’s a win-win, guilt-free refreshment.

Getting out of one’s routine creates mental space, cultivates alertness, and exposes us to new information and perspectives. This space allows new ideas and inspiration to enter. We return to our work motivated, ready to ask new questions, and implement new strategies.

And one more rationale for professional development: data. I’m responsible for member surveys here at Exponent Philanthropy, and I noticed several items of interest when reviewing the data from our recent CONNECT conference, which highlighted ways for participants to, yes, you got it, connect.

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Get Out More in 2014

By Dori Kreiger, Foundation Source

Exponent Philanthropy is pleased to feature the next post in a multipart series from our colleagues at Foundation Source, a leading provider of comprehensive support services for private foundations. Foundation Source shares our commitment to helping donors maximize their dollars and time. Read the previous post in the series

I’m told I ask a lot of questions—and not just by my dear sisters. For me, asking questions—and listening to questions posed by others—is how I seek to understand what others think, and learn from their successes and challenges. It is this connection, engaging with people who are trying to make a difference in our world, that makes philanthropy a meaningful and rewarding endeavor. For me, asking questions provides the most inspiring and worthwhile learning opportunities. Direct inquiry provides a depth to learning that I believe can only be fully realized by attending in-person events and gatherings centered on philanthropy.

I am no Luddite. In our technology driven age, it’s easy enough to find excellent distance learning opportunities. Webinars, conference calls, live chats, and MOOCs (massive open online courses) all allow us efficient and inexpensive ways to learn. This is especially important as we all try to balance many responsibilities. But these virtual connections cannot fully replicate what we gain when we gather together in person.

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Investing in Nonprofit Leaders, Revisited

By Janice Simsohn Shaw, Exponent Philanthropy

A couple years back, I had the fun task (really, it was fascinating!) of writing for Exponent Philanthropy on Investing in Nonprofit Leaders. Then I led a session at Exponent Philanthropy’s 2010 National Conference on the same topic. The subject of leadership development is an important one for grantmakers, as they rely on grantees to help achieve their missions, and those grantee organizations need strong leaders to achieve theirs.

At the time, the research on nonprofit leadership was a bit depressing, to tell you the truth. A number of studies had indicated that nonprofit staffers were underpaid and overstressed, that baby boomers would be retiring in droves, and there was a lack of young talent posed to take the reins.

But the times, well, they are a-changing.

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How We Made A Small Foundation Internship Work

By Michael V. Paul, Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation 

This is the second in a three-part series chronicling one foundation’s experience with having an intern. The first post was written by the foundation’s Executive Director. This second post is by the foundation’s Program Officer, and the third post will be by its current Intern. We hope the series will inspire other foundations to follow suit.

As one who is not far removed from the trials and tribulations of the modern day job search, I know how much an internship can help guide a jobseeker. I can attribute a nonprofit internship in college for guiding me to where I am today. Furthermore, as a Millennial at a small foundation, I yearn for the opportunity to develop professionally. For these reasons, and the many our Executive Director, Gali, explained in an earlier post, we decided to have an intern at our small foundation. Here’s how we did it.

First, we developed a framework to help navigate our intern search and key phases of the project. We determined our ideal candidate to be an undergraduate or recent graduate with:

  • Little or no experience in the professional world,
  • Potential for growth, and
  • Interest or curiosity in the nonprofit/philanthropic sector.

Along with these criteria, we hoped to find a person who would fit well in our office – someone with whom we could easily spend 8 hours each day.

Next, we drew up a job description to post on Idealist, a nonprofit job board. We considered the many tasks an intern might perform in our office and thought about how to translate them into a job post. We bunched these tasks into three areas:

  • Project Tasks – Research current and potential granting areas, writing assignments, filing, and database projects.
  • Learning Tasks – News research, trend and field analysis, resume/cover letter updating, and mock interviewing.
  • Administrative Tasks – Management of day-to-day office systems.

After whittling down our candidate pool to five, I conducted a series of interviews and ultimately selected a candidate who would be the best fit.

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