"Find people who will make you better."
The day has arrived. It is my last day serving as President and CEO of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers. In a few days, I will step over to your side of the aisle in my role leading the Champlin Foundation.
As I said at that beautiful and overwhelmingly wonderful farewell gathering last week, it has been an extraordinary gift and a profound privilege to serve in this role these past 13-plus years. And I feel very good about leaving this precious network in the hands of the exceptional team of Pat Foo, Theresa Jacks, and Craig Weinrich, along with the very capable interim leadership of Jon Shure and Connie Ludwin.
I’ve been struggling with what to say in my farewell message to all of you, the spectacular membership of the Council. First and foremost, I want to express my thanks and gratitude.
Thank you for the deep and wide education I’ve received these past 13 years because of all you do and want to do better. I’ve often said the best thing about this job is that I get to learn a little bit about a lot of different things because the membership has such fascinating and intensely important interests. I have gratitude for the amazing relationships I’ve been able to have with some of the smartest, kindest, most thoughtful, and creative people imaginable.
I also am enormously grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given.
- My year in Lead New Jersey that really laid so much of the groundwork I needed for CNJG’s programming and affinity groups.
- My two-month sabbatical that led directly to our Race, Racism and Ramifications for Philanthropy learning journey.
- The privilege to serve on the board and then chair our national network, the United Philanthropy Forum.
- And, the ability to help the Council make a meaningful difference in our field and our state through initiatives like Facing Our Future, the Disaster Philanthropy Playbook and our post-Sandy work, as well as creation of CNJG’s Guiding Beliefs and Principles.
Here is what is at the heart of all of it though: When a funder joins the Council it means they recognize they cannot do their best work in a vacuum or in isolation. They realize the need to find people who will make them better, just as I reference in Michelle Obama's quote above. They want to be smarter, work more thoughtfully, be truly effective. The Council is at its best when our members come together to learn, share ideas and strategies, collaborate, and be open to innovation. When I was given the gift of leading the Council, my mother would ask me to explain again what it was I would be doing. My response to her became my consistent little “elevator speech" for years to come. “My organization helps those that make grants be the best grantmakers they can be.”
As you all know well, working as a funder can get pretty heady. How does the joke go? Congratulations, you got a foundation job. You’ve now told your last bad joke. The power imbalance is so extreme.
What I’ve learned is that the best funders are the ones that really listen, not talk at their grantees about what they ought to be doing. Respect, faith, and appreciation for the people working in nonprofit charities is the hallmark of their approach. The best funders are the ones that show up as planned, on time for meetings and site visits, that don’t make an applicant jump through endless hoops for a grant -- especially a small grant.
The funders I’ve come to admire most are those that seek to understand a charity’s work and trust the expertise and wisdom of its executive leadership. These funders don’t micro-manage, mansplain, second-guess, or over burden. These funders recognize the power dynamic at play yet seek candid, colleague-to-colleague conversations and problem-solving with nonprofit leaders. They power-up nonprofit colleagues instead of powering over them.
These are just some of the marvelous lessons you’ve shared with me over the years, and I’m grateful to have them as I head into the role of a grantmaker for the largest private foundation in a small but mighty state.
With bountiful thanks and appreciation,
Nina Stack, President
Council of New Jersey Grantmakers