Career Pathways: Reflections on #COFAnnual

Three years ago, I met Charles Story at the Grants Managers Network annual conference in San Diego. He was a featured panelist on a session about Extreme Management — successfully leading teams in constantly changing organizational environments. I was so impressed with his insights that we would start working together the following year, and I soon learned that Charles was also an executive coach with the Council’s Career Pathways (CP) Program. When I heard about the program’s goals and curriculum, I was completely sold, and could hardly wait for its reboot in 2017.

I got my wish. I joined the Career Pathways 2017 Cohort last January, and every moment has been amazing. The cohort recently came together for three days in Dallas to delve deeper into our leadership visions for philanthropy and hear from phenomenal leaders in the sector.

On Friday morning, we reunited like old friends and celebrated new roles for two cohort members. Then we welcomed Ben Francisco Maulbeck, President of Funders for LGBTQ Issues, to our circle for a frank conversation on the rewards and challenges of leading in philanthropy.

Ben framed philanthropy as moving money and wielding power in a way that is collaborative and transformative. He underscored that the collaborative spirit should be present in our office culture, including time for self-care, and touched on the personal and professional importance of responding to events such as the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. We ended the day over a delectable dinner with lots of laughter on the 27th floor of the Hilton Anatole.

The next day, we heard from Flozell Daniels, Jr., CEO and President of Foundation for Louisiana, who joined us for a thought-provoking conversation about demystifying the search process. I was especially struck by his unwavering commitment to his values during the search process and his advice on how to present one’s experience as well as negotiate a CEO compensation package. He also emphasized the importance of having mentors to help you shine, and thought it imperative to check institutional privilege by staying connected to the people who stand to benefit the most from philanthropic support.

We spent the afternoon on two activities: 1) presenting our philanthropic vision in three to five minutes to colleagues and CP staff (we got Shark Tank-style feedback immediately to help strengthen our delivery), and 2) exchanging ideas about four field issues. Those ideas were diversity, equity, and inclusion; cross-sector collaboration; mission-related investing; and evaluation and measurement. Conversations continued over cocktails.

Our final day began with a panel discussion featuring three CP alumni: Tonya Allen, President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, Ken Jones, Chief Financial Officer at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Craig Drinkard, Associate Director for Operations at Victoria Foundation. We were encouraged to master something and lead from where you are, reminded that smart leaders can lead from everywhere (and are key to changes they want implemented), and advised to give grace the way we would want to receive it (you never know what the CEO is dealing with). Constructive critiques of philanthropy included the fact that it can move at a snail’s pace, be risk adverse and partisan, and lack self-examination and substantial diversity, equity, and inclusion.

I wish we’d had longer to continue this great exchange, but our time on Sunday was abbreviated. We ended the day in breakout groups, sharing and receiving feedback on our home institution case studies before coming back to the circle to reflect on our time together.

I left Dallas inspired by the possibilities for my career trajectory, more hopeful that the future of philanthropy is bright, and moved by the humility, talent, and decency of my cohort colleagues. Over the next few months, we’ll continue working with our executive coaches, honing our home institution case studies, and preparing for our virtual summer convening.

I’m looking forward to continuing this journey!

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