Last year, for organizations positioned to engage young leaders and for young leaders themselves, a colleague and I shared ways to create a welcoming space for the next generation to learn and build confidence. See Are You Creating Space for Young Leaders to Lead? >>
Because the challenge of engaging the next generation—and getting engaged as a young leader—persists for many Exponent Philanthropy members, I offer here three additional ways to create space at the table for your next generation.
Cultivate an open and supportive culture
Culture matters, a lot. Take the article It’s Not Foundation Money but Culture and Talent That Can Change the World, referencing research by Community Wealth Partners, work by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, and a study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy—all suggesting that culture is key inside and outside philanthropic organizations.
Or take this New York Times article about Google’s attempts to build the perfect team. Spoiler alert: The group’s internal culture—in particular, a psychologically safe space for open conversations—shaped its success.
Think back to a recent board meeting or conversation with those engaged in your giving. Could you openly and honestly share ideas? Did others feel the same?
If not, don’t worry; not all is lost.
“[Foundations] fall into patterns of ‘this is how we do this,’” says Dawn Franks, executive director of the Ben and Maytee Fisch Foundation and advisor for family foundations. “There’s a great deal to be said for making [open conversation] part of the culture at the foundation. It’s especially helpful if you have multiple generations, because it allows the younger generation to ask questions, communicate what they’re thinking, and share their hopes or expectations for the foundation.”
Fortunately, every conversation or meeting is an opportunity to shift culture.
Allow the next generation to shape their involvement
Very few people like being told what to do and how to do it. To help the next generation feel valued and engaged, find a way to involve them in the decision-making process from the start.
What opportunities are there for the next generation to get involved? May they serve on the board, join a committee, or be considered for a staff position? Could they learn the ropes by shadowing a board member, sitting in on meetings, or joining site visits?
“I’ve been going on site visits with my dad,” says Sapphira Goradia, executive director of The Goradia Foundation. “It’s been so helpful to see what questions he asks from a business perspective. I think we better understand how we complement each other in this work.”
The key is to have the conversation about involvement early and often, and to avoid coming to the table with predetermined options.
“Instead of asking how we can make the next gen engage,” wrote Kerry McHugh and Katherine Palms in their post The “Next Gen” Is Not as “Other” as You May Think, “ask different questions: How can this next gen-er find interest in philanthropy? What can they contribute? What can they learn?”
Let the next generation find their voice
Not everyone feels comfortable speaking up or contributing right away. And that’s okay.
Almost to a fault—and, in our experience, without exception—young leaders in philanthropy approach their new positions with such deference, with such desire to add value and carry forward a legacy, that they humbly hesitate to contribute from the start, or to contribute confidently. Complex family dynamics can add additional hurdles.
“At first I didn’t want to say anything,” shares Jenny Donley, third-generation trustee of the Donley Foundation. “Others on the board had much more knowledge and expertise to bring to the table. But then I realized the information was right here. I have a brain and a voice, and I can participate in this conversation. I can draw from life experiences.”
Bolster the next generation’s resolve by welcoming new ideas, being willing to try something different, and encouraging young leaders to look beyond philanthropy for ideas and education to support their confidence-building. Although it may take time and patience, it can lead to a more meaningful experience for everyone in the end.
Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy program manager, develops programs and resources on philanthropy and foundation administration, and guides and connects members throughout Exponent Philanthropy’s network.
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