A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Planning a Meeting? Ditch the Conference Room and Hit the Hiking Trail

I had one of my more interesting and productive meetings with two colleagues the other day. Like me, these colleagues are both executive directors of grantmaking foundations that work in our community. One has tenure of more than 15 years, and I have known him for those years and more. The other is celebrating his first year on the job, and we are just getting to know each other.

In the previous month we met in pairs and agreed that we might benefit from a wide-ranging discussion about our work. One of my colleagues suggested we do it while hiking. Just a short hike.

I took on the assignment of finding a good trail. I offered two choices, and we opted for the trail none of us had hiked before. It wasn’t long: We met at 8 am, and we were back having coffee and juice within a couple of hours. We finished muddy, a little sweaty, and agreeing that this was probably one of the more productive meetings we had had in a long time.

Why was this such a good setting for a conversation? I think the answer is multifaceted. Each of us, as place-based funders, cares about the locations we work in. Being connected to the wonder of nature is a great reminder of the specialness of these places and the responsibility we hold for being good stewards of our foundations’ resources. Beyond that, we were on a collective adventure. The trail was not well marked, and we had to work together to find our way. We were doing something together.

As I got muddier, I think some of my overcoat of professionalism was peeled off, and I found myself being more candid and open.

Hiking creates space for conversations to unfold. Like the way our trail crossed and re-crossed the stream, we took breaks from specific work topics and talked about native and invasive trees. We paused to look at remnants of an old drainage system that was no longer functional. There was space to reflect as we walked.

At one point, I was asked a significant question about our foundation’s strategies, but I was focused on navigating the stream, so I delayed my response. When we were back on the dry side of the trail, I was able to answer with a little more clarity than if I had tried immediately, when the question was first posed.

We did not make any big decisions as we walked and talked, but I do feel like I know these two colleagues in a different and perhaps more meaningful way. Some of the trappings of being a professional have been shed. We have a shared experience that was challenging and enjoyable. We accomplished something together.

Would we do this again? Before we said goodbye, one of my colleagues volunteered to organize our next outing in the coming quarter, in what we call “Conference Room H (ike).”

Exponent Philanthropy Board Member Janis Reischmann was hired as Hauʻoli Mau Loa Foundation’s first executive director in April 2008, bringing to this role more than 20 years of working in the nonprofit sector in Hawaiʻi. Her experience with grantmaking foundations includes seeking grants from local as well as national foundations and serving as staff or consultant to Hawaiʻi Community Foundation and various family and independent foundations. 

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