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Dispatch from #ForumCon22: What Emerging Leaders Want You to Know

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

This is a guest post by Berkeley Bryant, Program Coordinator at Blue Sky Funders Forum.

2022 holds a lot of “firsts” for me professionally. It’s my first full year in the philanthropy field, and my first time attending the United Philanthropy Forum’s conference. I am grateful for the opportunity to visit Seattle for the first time, as well. 

Although I could talk at length about the various, phenomenal sessions I attended, I’d like to focus on just one, the Emerging Practitioners Workshop: Emergent Leadership in Hybrid Times, hosted by Laura Collier and Elyse Gordon of Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy. Below, I offer key takeaways for PSO leadership to be aware of, as well as the top ideas this group co-created. Please note, I do not represent all emerging leaders, nor is this list comprehensive of all of the amazing ideas folks shared. 

The Roles of Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy

Though our job descriptions were all different, we found many attributes to be shared. Emerging leaders are connectors, re-imaginers, educators, researchers, field-movers, coalition-builders, conveners, advocates, and disruptors.

We also play a lot of informal roles that may be placed upon us for inequitable reasons: the note taker, the “yes person” (that employee who feels the need to say yes to every project their supervisor hands down), the proofreader, the IT department or Zoom expert. If any of these resonate with your organization, I encourage you to take time and reflect on why that emerging leader is placed in this informal role. Are they the IT expert because they actually have expertise in that field and it’s part of their job description, or are they a millennial employee and it’s assumed they know how to fix IT issues because of their age? Are they the note taker while also being given the opportunity to contribute to the conversation, or are they a woman or person of color, and this is commonly who fills that role? 

Often, emerging leaders work for smaller teams, whose employees have to share lots of responsibilities beyond their specific job descriptions. Someone needs to take notes in meetings, and if you don’t have the resources to hire an IT expert, someone needs to fix issues in-house. My suggestion is to critically reflect on these informal roles and ask why certain employees are often assigned these tasks. Most, if not all of us, want to be those connectors, the advocates inspiring funders to invest more and make longer-term deeper impacts. Let’s work together to ensure PSO staff members have the capacity to be the leader their organization needs.

Top Ideas for Job Satisfaction and Field-Moving

  1. 4-day, 32-hour work week and unlimited PTO. Feedback from emerging leaders included wishing their organizations place a higher value on the output of their work, rather than the quantifiable amount of hours it took. Plenty of research and test runs have already shown that a 4-day work week consisting of 32 hours reaps numerous benefits like job satisfaction, less turnover, and deeper commitment to the organization. 
  2. Limit the number of internal meetings and external programs. Long story short, we have too much work on our plates! As funders continue to adopt the trust-based philanthropic practice of fewer grants, and more money per grant, let’s pull that model into our work. As a team, let’s prioritize and build out an annual program plan that reflects the needs of our community, strategically committing to the quality of work, rather than the number of programs. I’ll leave this last note here: 32% of people think that meeting could have been an email.
  3. Encourage a “Whole-Self” Employee. This all-encompassing note was expressed in a lot of different ways. “We’re people first, employees second.” “It’s almost impossible to not bring my personal issues, feelings, mood, circumstances, etc. into my workplace.” Greater autonomy and recognition leads to greater job satisfaction (see “The Great Resignation”).

Here’s my final note and recommendation: PSO leaders, do not underestimate the impact a peer community can have on your staff. Invest in their professional development; make time to co-create an individual development plan and commit to supporting their advancement; ensure staff have the time and resources to learn from peers. 

What a first full year in philanthropy it’s been. I’m so inspired by my fellow emerging leaders to advocate for change within their PSOs, and to push the philanthropic field towards greater equity and justice. I look forward to seeing you all at the next Forum conference. 

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