I became affiliated with The New York Women’s Foundation back in 2017 as one of 14 Fellows participating in the Girls IGNITE! Grantmaking (GIG) Fellowship program. The GIG Fellowship is a program dedicated to young girls and gender-fluid youth between the ages of 14-18 who live within the five boroughs of New York and identify with historical marginalized communities. This opportunity is an entry point to discover what participatory grantmaking is, what the process looks like, and in general, learn about what the field of philanthropy entails. This exposure offered me a professional career where I could fight for justice and contribute positive change in my community for the future. I had the privilege to come back this summer to work closely with the Programs Department to support the 2019 GIG Fellows as an intern to continue my journey as a philanthropist. These are 4 things I learned throughout my experience:
1. So many people come into philanthropy ‘accidentally’. What does that mean?
I had the chance to hear from various professionals about how they landed in philanthropy. After reflecting on these conversations, I noticed a trend of ‘accidentally’ stumbling upon philanthropy, even with The Foundation’s very own President & CEO, Ana Oliveira. I wanted to highlight this because I wondered if ‘accidentally stumbling’ upon a career is really another way of reiterating the phrase ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’.
Philanthropy is important work and more people need to know about it as a career. I am proud to say that The Foundation recognizes the need for younger generations to look at philanthropy the same way children think about being a doctor or a lawyer and will continue making strides to make that a reality. The GIG program is a great way to expose young people to this exciting and fulfilling career option.
2. Philanthropy looks different for everyone
Philanthropy is a field where one’s experience is unique. The process of grantmaking, development and operations look vastly different in every foundation. The Foundation, for example, practices participatory grantmaking to receive guidance directly from the communities being served and work directly with them to decide on the allocation of funding. The Foundation believes that the people who live in these communities know what is best for their community. There is no limit to who can contribute their ideas in these conversations. My experience being both a GIG Fellow and GIG Intern has taught me that philanthropy offers different lenses. GIG prioritizes ideas from young people by giving them a chance to be a part of decision-making processes, creating more progressive moves for the community. Taking this initiative opens the potential for other foundations to take after and implement more decisive programming catered towards young people, particularly young girls of color and gender fluid youth.
3. Grantmaking decisions can be burdensome and difficult
Last year, when I was told I would have the opportunity to weigh in on grantmaking decisions, I was euphoric. As a 17-year-old, that was exciting. I didn’t really think about what that meant until the time came to negotiate and decide amongst my cohort, who should we fund and how much? My cohort had great experiences at our site visits and really enjoyed getting to know these organizations but ultimately, making funding decisions can be tough. My cohort came with different stories to share and different issues to flag, and while that made us a spontaneous, unpredictable and passionate group of young folks, it also made it difficult to compromise. We each felt very connected with the organizations we had site visited, but we couldn’t fund all of them. This year’s cohort faced a similar challenge where Fellows had difficulty agreeing on an amount to fund. This dispute occurred because each Fellow had a different interpretation on what to prioritize when making decisions representing The Foundation. To address this issue, I suggested they approach this situation with questions such as, “Do you think funding this organization and their mission will be able to benefit young girls, women, gender-fluid/TGNC folks within the community?” “Will they be able to support their vision without us?” I have continued to learn throughout this internship that asking these types of questions are vital in making efficient, thoughtful decisions because at the end of the day, these decisions are making some form of impact on other people’s lives.
Philanthropy’s ability to be compassionate comes with the necessity to be clear and not be clouded with any biases. Both the Fellows and I were given exposure early in our philanthropic careers to absorb this reality. That alone is an accomplishment we should all be proud of.
4. Roll with the punches
When I first accepted this internship, it was difficult to imagine how it would unfold. Being a 2018 Fellow, I was oblivious to the amount of laborious work and time that had been put in by my supervisor, program officer Bianca Alston, and the rest of the Programs Team. Now that I was going to be helping out with the Fellowship, the tasks piled up extremely quickly, and all I could do was ‘roll with the punches.’ I went from supporting administrative work like copying, to creating presentations for GIG sessions, leading icebreakers and preparing Fellows for their site visits. I even collaborated with grantee partner Harlem Birth Action Committee and invited them to come speak to our Fellows about maternal and fetal morality. I put in everything I could to support the fellowship as best as I could, but it wouldn’t have been possible without my great supervisor and the Programs Team to lean on. Most importantly, I was willing to be flexible. For anyone reading this about to start an internship, I want to say that I hope you get an awesome supervisor, are surrounded by amazing, passionate workers, and are willing to adapt to whatever is necessary. Keep sticking through with it because you’ll be greatly rewarded!