Sixteen Lessons this Next Gen-er Walked Away with from my Time in Los Angeles

I am one of the fortunate recipients of a Stay in LA scholarship, a partnership between Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) and the Council on Foundations to allow Next Gens and emerging leaders (the new affectionate term for young people) to attend the two organizations’ annual conferences in Los Angeles. Both were invaluable experiences and I am going back to the Seattle International Foundation inspired and reenergized to do more for the communities we serve through our grantmaking.

As a young woman in a sector comprised of accomplished and seasoned leaders, it is undoubtedly daunting to walk into a conference of 1,300 people who have just a few years on me in the dynamic field of philanthropy. This scholarship allowed me to stay in L.A. for both events, but most importantly it showed me that young leaders in this field are not the next generation. They are this generation, and we must come together with veteran leaders in the field to change the way philanthropy is carried out today and in the future.

There were a few different “aha moments” for me throughout my time in L.A.—moments where I said to myself:  “Gosh, I can relate to that,” “This sector has so much potential to create greater social change,” or “I cannot wait to sit down and discuss that with my team back in Seattle.” Rather than string all of those moments together, I’m going for bullet-point route because these grant applications aren’t going to read themselves. After six days of conferencing, I need to get back to work!

The following statements were bold, yet simple. They were concrete reminders of how far this field has come and how much further we have yet to go. These sound bites are summaries of what I heard in sessions and observed on the Twitter feeds.

  1. Funders need to take risks and be bold.
  2. Partnerships and collaboration are devoid of meaning unless they are rooted in genuine meaning and commitment.
  3. Use 100 percent of your assets to carry out 100 percent of your mission.
  4. To really make a difference, foundations and philanthropists need to be activists as well. We can’t just sit in our offices, review proposals, and make recommendations. We have to get out there and find the people that are making the change happen; in other words, be a social activist and a philanthropist.
  5. An occupational hazard of working in philanthropy is that arrogance tends to settle in.
  6. You are never too low on the org chart. Lead right from where you are. Leadership is not an org chart; leadership is hope in action.
  7. Social movements don’t happen within grant cycles.
  8. Fund community-based organizations.
  9. We need to let our inspiration define us, not the other way around.
  10. As foundations, we are as strong as the grantees we fund.
  11. If you cannot translate your logic model for your grantees, you need to question the logic model.
  12. Most people end up in philanthropy serendipitously.
  13. Funders are the giants in the room; they don’t need to carry big sticks.
  14. Speak the truth to yourself while you speak the truth to people of influence and power.
  15. Hire around your challenges; hire people who are smarter than you.
  16. Be helpful toward your grantees, without being prescriptive.

I want to give a big thanks to the Council and EPIP for my Stay in LAscholarship—it was an invaluable experience to be able to attend both conferences. More importantly, it was fantastic to meet with leaders in the field who have a great deal to share with Next Gen-ers like me, but who are open to learning from us Next Gen-ers, too!


Michele Frix is the Program Officer at the Seattle International Foundation. 

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