It’s hard to leave the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) National Conference not feeling energized. Both because of demographics and because of demeanor, attendees always bring an enthusiasm and excitement to EPIP that is often missing at other philanthropy events. Young people new to the field are thrust, often for the first time, into a setting with no immediate support from a manager and asked to represent their organizations, either through a presentation or just in conversation. It is an opportunity to explore our own professional personalities, reflect on the prospects and challenges we face at this stage in our career, and, hopefully, spark new ideas to take back to our respective jobs. As a member of the steering committee for the Boston Chapter of EPIP, I was pleased to see all of that on offer again this year.
One of the special pleasures of an EPIP conference is the opportunity for emerging practitioners to interact with some of the more seasoned leaders in our sector. Those in attendance as speakers this year shared an obvious appreciation for the energy in the room. Over the course of our three days in Los Angeles, we heard repeatedly about both their amazement and pleasure at how Generation Y has pushed them to reimagine the rules and roles of philanthropy. While not abandoning the collective wisdom of their own experience, the foundation leaders we heard from expressed an eagerness to include fresh perspectives and consider new approaches in order to increase the impact of the field.
“Leadership does not come from an org chart,” said Dr. Robert Ross, President & CEO of The California Endowment.
As an organization focused on that intergenerational exchange of ideas, EPIP is in a unique position to help push the philanthropic sector forward. The organization is committed to recruiting and retaining top-tier talent, as well as aiding the growth of those already in the field through a series of professional development programs. That monitoring and supporting of talent throughout the social sector speaks to both young and old practitioners about promoting internal proficiency. In espousing effectiveness as one of their key tenets, EPIP hopes to raise the level of expertise of all practitioners.
As Phil Buchanan explored in a recent blog post, there is no standard route to navigate a long-term career to the top of philanthropy; those who spend decades in the sector are the exception, not the rule. But striving to become a traditional foundation CEO is beside the point. Junior staff would do well to heed the advice of Dr. John Jackson, President and CEO of The Schott Foundation for Public Education: “People aren’t called to positions; they are called to passions.”
Emerging practitioners who commit themselves to cultivating their passion through a professional approach to their work in philanthropy will be on their way to demonstrating leadership. That in turn will help redefine what those foundation leadership roles look like in the future. Knowing that EPIP is out there supporting this work is a blessing for all of us who care about effectiveness in philanthropy. It’s an honor to be a part of such a network.
Stephen Sullivan is Senior Coordinator of Communications and Programming at the Center for Effective Philanthropy.