This 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.