As we prepare for our 2012 Heart of Philanthropy (HOP), NCG’s signature professional development retreat for seasoned grantmakers, we’ve decided to use our blog to feature an interview with staff and HOP alumni.We asked Wendy Todd, Program Director at Marin Community Foundation, to provide her grantmaking peers with a better understanding of what HOP is all about and how it has benefited her grantmaking practice.
NCG: When did you participate in HOP and what inspired you to attend?
Wendy: I became intrigued about Heart of Philanthropy when I heard staff and fellow NCG committee members grappling with how to describe it. The more they described the 2 ½ day retreat in West Marin the more mysterious it became! It sounded like it was going to be work intensive, yet there would be plenty of time to rest, relax, and play. Participants wouldn’t necessarily know one another going into the experience but they would end up sharing their deepest fears as a way of deepening their leadership skills.
I participated in HOP in August 2010. I was one year into my Program Officer position at Marin Community Foundation after working four years at Blue Shield of California Foundation. The economic recession was in full effect and my responsibilities as a local grantmaker – one who has to decline lots of proposals from local community leaders – began to feel very heavy and started to take an emotional toll. I was hoping the HOP retreat would help me lighten the load.
NCG: What were your perceptions before you attended? After?
Wendy: My perception was that the retreat would be a ‘hang-out’ session with seasoned grantmakers. Little structure. Little effort.
There was a bit of hanging out–we socialized into the night and sang Beatles tunes, we ate fantastic food together, and we went on a beautiful hike on cliffs above the ocean…AND we worked hard. The agenda was packed with mental, and somewhat emotional, exercises – poetry reading, writing, small group discussions, etc. The facilitator kept us on task and moved us through quite a bit of material. I left the retreat exhausted and invigorated!
NCG: How has HOP improved your leadership?
Wendy: A question I was struggling with before going to HOP was how can I successfully catalyze community change when I am spread so thin and the expectations of what I should accomplish are so great? At HOP I realized my challenge is a classic conundrum and there are ways to manage the tension. One strategy is to become more focused and disciplined in my day-to-day work. Limit distractions while remaining open to opportunities that pop up. Another strategy is to ask questions – especially when I see injustice and inequity – and keep asking questions when the answers are seemingly unacceptable.
I went into HOP feeling a bit insecure as I had been in philanthropy for only five years. I was certain HOP participants would be smarter, more experienced, and better strategists than me. Among the HOP crowd I was sure I would have nothing to contribute. While each of the participants lived up to my expectations they also helped me recognize the leadership qualities I bring to the work. The community we created at HOP helped me to feel like one of them…passionate and skillful leader in philanthropy.
Before HOP, I had been using the “fake-it-to-make-it” strategy to survive in my leadership role at MCF . I left HOP relying less on that strategy and more confident in myself. It was so helpful to realize that the challenges I struggle with, the questions I get stuck on, are experienced by those who have been leading the field for quite some time.
NCG: What is the one thing that you experienced at HOP that you continue to apply to your practice?
Wendy: Take time to reflect rather than rushing to the quick semi-fix.
NCG: HOP is a time commitment, tell us why a grantmaker should take off 2 ½ days to participate in this retreat?
Wendy: The setting is beautiful, the food is delicious, the conversation is thought-provoking, and the opportunity is very rare.