After three years on the job, Stephanie Jacobs, MCF’s previous director of member services, said goodbye last week and will soon be the new program manager at Nonprofits Assistance Fund. Before she left we asked her to give us some of her biggest takeaways from her time at MCF, and we’re sharing them with you here. Best wishes to you in your new role, Stephanie!
1) Philanthropy can be your career.
When you talk to people who work in philanthropy, they often talk about falling into their jobs or being in the right place at the right time. The people who work in grantmaking organizations come from all kinds of professional backgrounds – from nonprofits, corporations, schools, journalism, government and elsewhere.
Colleges and universities, such as Indiana University, have started offering degrees to prepare students for careers in philanthropy. It remains to be seen if these degrees will lead to jobs in the field, but there is no doubt that elevating the level of study acknowledges the increased professionalism and rigor required to do the work. Philanthropists are professionals and are highly dedicated to their jobs and community.
2) Philanthropy isn’t easy.
In my role at MCF, I spoke with a lot of people who wanted to know how to get started in the field of philanthropy. I usually replied by asking them why they wanted to work in the field. Everyone had their own reason, but usually the answer came back to, “I’d like to be the one to give away the money.” If only it were that simple. There are many benefits to a career in philanthropy, but like any other profession, it has challenges. You have to learn how to say, “No.” All the time. To many worthy organizations. Because you can never shed your “foundation hat,” you must be aware of what you say and where you say it. There are always emerging community problems, with new challenges cropping out of old issues, and there is never enough money to meet every need.
3) Philanthropy continues to be a community of practice and learning.
Despite the increased level of professionalism and emerging degrees of study, most philanthropists still learn best practices from each other. This isn’t just about networking over coffee. They delve deeply into rich and substantive conversations, absorbing everything they can about issues they are working to solve and asking thoughtful questions about their approach.
4) Philanthropy is about mission.
People often think that philanthropy is about money. My biggest takeaway from MCF is that grantmaking professionals are as dedicated to their missions as nonprofits are. Like nonprofits, they are working with limited resources to move community issues forward. They are looking for partners to help tackle challenges that face their common constituents. In their search for answers, they will bring their best resources to the table.
5) Philanthropy can be empowering and catalyzing.
Philanthropy is at its best when foundations not only embrace their role as grantmakers, but also step into the field as conveners, facilitators, provocateurs and risk takers. I have seen foundations use their privilege to ask difficult questions of elected officials and community leaders about their decisions’ effects on the people they serve. And, I have seen them fund organizations that didn’t submit the best proposal, but did contain the glimmer of a great idea which led to amazing outcomes. I have seen them listen when communities come to them with problems and with solutions. And I have seen them build capacity in those communities, so they are soon able to address their own challenges. They are leaders and listeners — lifting up ideas and organizations in pursuit of the common good.
I saw many highs and lows of the work during my three years at MCF, but what I’ll remember and what I’m grateful for is when I saw philanthropy at its best.