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Exercises Interviews News values

Making Values Work for Teams

Our first interview about reflective practices in group work is with Brenda Solorzano, who is the CEO of the new Headwaters Foundation in Western Montana. So many of our readers have asked how do you reflect when your staff is small and multi-tasking all the time or when the board is just past start-up stage and anxious to move from planning to action or a new CEO has just arrived and feels the need to hit the ground running?  Brenda and Headwaters offers us a chance to answer all these questions at once.  – Jan Jaffe

Jan: Headwaters Foundation is very new – just making its first grants. How do you, as its first CEO, help your board and staff hold the space for reflection when there must be so much pressure to focus on translating strategy into action?

Brenda: Over the years in philanthropy, I’ve come to believe that there is a very direct relationship between good values and good strategy. As a result, I’ve tried to “flip the frame” around those initial exercises about mission, vision and values exercises. It’s so easy to check values off the to-do list and forget that they can be used to remind us about how we want to work together as well as what we do. Rather than thinking about a values statement as a problem to solve and move on, I make it about intentionality around the culture we are trying to build. Values shape strategy.

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New Guide: Four Practices to Help You Work (and Sleep) Better

 

What keeps you up at night?  Our hunch, based on interviews with dozens of skilled philanthropy practitioners, is that it’s not the “what” of your work. You care deeply about a place, a field or an issue. You work hard to stay on top of content knowledge. You network to learn from others. It takes time and vigilance but you can do it. Rarely does that information get in the way of a good night’s sleep.

What challenges philanthropy practitioners is the “how” of that work.

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Effective Philanthropy is Heart Work and Hard Work

 

As a Senior Advisor and Vice President at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Dr. Gail C. Christopher led many initiatives that were not without controversy and difficult conversations. She launched the Foundation’s breastfeeding program as a health equity strategy for women and children and she was responsible for the formation and framework of the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) work. We began our interview talking about what reflective practices helped her meet challenges as a philanthropic practitioner. –Jan Jaffe

Gail: Let’s remember philanthropy’s etymology—love of humanity. I believe the field should be grounded in the heart and love. I am always all about the business! But I put a great deal of emphasis on doing no harm myself and helping others to be on a path of love and understanding. As a practice, that means always asking myself where my attention and focus should be. I think about my day and visualize my intention for each experience. It is a centering practice to have a clear intention. 

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Putting Something in the Middle

When I read Doug’s announcement about leaving Meyer Memorial Trust at the end of this year, I asked if we might have a couple of conversations about the reflective practices he used to guide his work there. I had admired his leadership of the foundation as it became an early adopter of Mission Related Investments (MRIs) and, more recently, his commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion at Meyer. This first post is about Meyer’s entry into making MRIs nearly twelve years ago. Investing with a mission lens is a high bar for foundations to clear. There is resistance to it, for good and bad reasons. Doug overcame that resistance by using a reflective practice that is often called “putting something in the middle”—using a third object to help participants explore their assumptions at a deeper level than words. This is an unusual practice but it can be a useful one, especially with analytic people. –Jan Jaffe

Jan: We have some examples of philanthropy practitioners using images or poems or music lyrics to open up conversations. You used a newspaper.

Doug: Of course I didn’t know that I was doing something that had a conceptual frame at the time, but I wanted to move our long journey of exploring the possibility of MRIs to a decision and, frankly, I hoped for an affirmative one. At this point, we had two years of experience in making Program-Related Investments. We had structured a learning journey with key trustees to meet leaders in the thick of it and to attend conferences. We arranged for speakers at trustee meetings and regional forums. While the idea clearly had appeal, I was not getting their attention.

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How Can I Be 1% More?

Sindhu Knotz and Jan Jaffe caught up with June Wilson, board member and executive director emeritus of Quixote Foundation to learn about her reflective practices and the foundation’s application of reflective practices to racial equity work.

Jan Jaffe: We started this conversation at Philanthropy Northwest’s annual conference roundtable to exchange stories about how reflective practice impacts our philanthropic work. Can you share with us how reflective practices have shaped your work as a leader?

June Wilson: I can’t remember a time when I haven’t in some way been aware of my personal reflective practices. I will walk, run, or move in space to allow kinesthetic energy to give me a wider palette than just language from which to see, feel and know things. It’s an important source for reflection. I spent many years as a dancer and choreographer learning tools that physicalized the verbal. I often fall back on these techniques especially when I am puzzled by something or feel stuck or challenged by an idea, concept or way of working. For me, it’s a way of reaching farther when I feel like I’ve hit a limit. If I can start by finding even 1% more patience, presence, love, imagination, I can break through that barrier.

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The Creative Tension of Intention

 

Many years ago, I learned the concept of “Structural Tension” from Robert Fritz, one of the founders of Innovation Associates along with Peter Senge and Charlie Keifer. IA was a company dedicated to helping people build organizations using principles of the creative process. I often refer to “Structural Tension” as “Creative Tension,” because that phrase is readily understandable by children.  Yes, you can teach this to children. Here is how it works.

Stretch a rubber band between your two hands so that one hand is on top of the other.  Imagine that your bottom hand represents current reality (the way things are) and your top hand represents your vision (what you would like to see in the world).  Notice the tension in the rubber band.  This is energy created by holding current reality and vision simultaneously, and it is this tension—this energy—that allows us to create the results we want.  If you let go of either end of the rubber band, you will notice that there no longer is energy in the system.  All you have is a limp rubber band.

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A Pop Princess Helped My Foundation Articulate Our Values

 

What would you say if I told you Katy Perry helped me facilitate my most recent foundation board meeting? Not impressed? Perhaps you’re more of a Taylor Swift fan. Honestly, I’m #TeamTaylor too, but Katy felt more appropriate for my board at this time.

Why? Let me take a few steps back.

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Philanthropists in a Hurry: The Risks of Unhealthy Boundaries and the Rush to Results (Part 2)

 

In the first part of this series, we discussed some of the rookie mistakes my team and I made when we started working to end family homelessness in the Pacific Northwest. Our impatience for impact led us to skip some of the vital relationship building and buy-in processes vital to achieving our goals. Philanthropy works through partners, but sometimes we forget that means strengthening the partnership aspects first.

What are the lessons learned from this?  First and foremost, it’s about the relationships and boundaries we need to maintain as funders.  Our grantees will always take our phone calls and meetings, and always smile and nod when we share new ideas or express our sense of urgency – even when they may not agree with our thinking and would very much prefer that we back the heck off.  Our shoe size is so large that it’s really easy for us to step on the toes of our partners; vigilance and patience is required, even as the pressure we feel to get to impact raises our anxiety levels.

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Philanthropists in a Hurry: The Risks of Unhealthy Boundaries and the Rush to Results (Part 1)

 

We philanthropy practitioners are, by nature, an impatient group of optimists, and sometimes our impatience can get the better of us.  This happens when we’re in such a hurry to see impact that we fail to recognize unhealthy boundaries related to our role in the change process, don’t clearly identify and plan for the challenges and obstacles in the path ahead, skip important steps in the process of systems change, or disregard the readiness of our partners to assume responsibility for the tasks we ask them to undertake.

Developing healthy relationships in our sector can be particularly challenging; grantees and partners tend to think of us (or at least treat us to our faces) as smarter and savvier than we actually are, and when we buy into this mythology ourselves it becomes that much harder to cultivate candid communication and encourage the porous boundaries that should be the hallmark of true grant maker/grantee partnerships.

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“It’s Not Magic; It’s Intentionality”: Janis Reischmann Talks About Her Reflective Practices with Mark Sedway

Mark Sedway: What does reflective practice mean to you?

Janis Reischmann: To me, reflective practice in philanthropy means we—practitioners in philanthropy—are employing techniques or tools to intentionally step back and explore what’s happening in processes, especially difficult ones, and using the answers to those questions to improve or sharpen our practice. It also says to me that the field is mindful of the role the individual plays in the craft of philanthropy…that it is not just about data, money, strategies or deadlines. The personhood we bring to philanthropy is an important element and is worth developing and sharpening.

MS: What reflective practices do you use in your work to do that stepping back and exploring?

JR: One practice I use is a non-traditional form of journaling. I use it before, during and after meetings and events in different kinds of ways. When I’m feeling really anxious and overloaded, it can be a pause to make a list of what’s making me anxious and suddenly I feel I have a handle on it. Sometimes I feel too busy to take even two minutes to do this, but of course I’m not. In advance of a meeting, I’ll outline my thoughts and jot down words or phrase I want to communicate. During a meeting, I’m better if I can jot down thoughts. It crystalizes things for me and helps me to focus more in the moment. Sometimes I’ll offer a summary of what I just heard to see if I’m tracking. After a meeting I do better if I do summary notes. It helps me process what occurred and think about what’s next. It’s a summarizing practice.

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One-hundred-eighty-degree Seeing

 

We all know that foundations are very powerful. Part of the challenge of philanthropy is how grantmakers listen to circumstances on the ground, versus imposing a cookie-cutter approach to incite deeper collaboration with grantees, while developing a more complex appreciation for their partners and how these different actors are connected within an individual landscape.

My goal as a grantmaker was to empower the grantee to take ownership of planning the grant so that the work and investment could be owned by the grantee. Doing so required letting go of control and trusting in the partnership as a learning opportunity for the foundation.

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