Our Journey: Celebrating the Eighth Year of Philanthropy 101 and Sharing What's to Come

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Our Journey: Celebrating the Eighth Year of Philanthropy 101 and Sharing What's to Come

This is part 1 of Philanthropy New York’s ‘Our Journey’ series which will highlight various internal shifts our organization has made to take the necessary steps towards becoming an anti-racist organization as outlined in our Strategic Framework.

This September marks the eighth year of Philanthropy 101. Every year since 2016, over one hundred Philanthropy New York members have joined us in person and/or virtually with the goal of better understanding the philanthropic sector they were set to join. 

As the philanthropic sector and world around us have changed, we’ve worked with our speakers and colleagues across the sector to update and evolve the Philanthropy 101 series. Below Carolyn Peters, Manager of Learning, and Yi-Ching Lin, Vice President of  Learning, share insights into the program’s evolution; from a more academic orientation for new hires in the sector to one that invites participants to reflect on how they can build, shift, and share power with the communities they serve in their new roles.

Throughout the conversation below, you will find takeaways from past participants of the series. This year's Philanthropy 101 series begins on Friday, September 29th. Register today!

Philanthropy 101 (Phil 101) is entering its 8th year this Fall. Can you start by sharing what inspired Philanthropy New York to create Phil 101 and how the curricula came about? Were there any specific events or experiences that led to its development?  

Yi-Ching: Philanthropy 101 was inspired by a number of requests we received from members who had new staff join their foundations in roles ranging from executive assistants to communication directors, program assistants to CEOs, and more. Philanthropy New York member organizations were looking to us for support during the onboarding process of new hires and to help orient them within the philanthropic sector.

So, with support from the Fund for 2025, we were able to invest significant resources to dream, collaborate, and co-develop the five-part Philanthropy 101 series in partnership with the Grantmaking School at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy. Our hope was that the series would provide some grounding for the newest members of our sector and provide refreshers to those who may be interested and/or had never had the opportunity to zoom out and get to know the ecosystem they were in.

The curriculum covers a wide array of material from a historical overview of philanthropy, to foundation governance and legal issues, to the business of grantmaking. It also introduces participants to current big issues within the sector, and helps them reflect on their roles within this new community, and the role power plays when they all of a sudden inherit the word “foundation” in their titles.

We made sure that the program was beneficial to folks at all stages in their professional career, whether they were brand new to philanthropy or have been working within the sector but needed a refresher. And we quickly learned that what we developed - a curriculum by and for staff of grantmaking institutions - was sorely missing in the sector! In fact, this series has been so universally needed that seven of our sibling regional associations have purchased the curriculum from Philanthropy New York to offer it to their newest members. 

"I feel I left with a bigger sense of community and desire to build my own peer network."

And how did you initially go about designing and implementing the program? Did you have any guiding principles or models in mind during the process?  

Yi-Ching: Looking back, when I think about how we embarked on this huge undertaking and the values that guided us, we used words like balancing values and goals, best practices and principles, and the importance of diversity and inclusion to effective grantmaking. We checked the boxes for learning objectives, underscored the importance of establishing competencies for each series session, and emphasized the need for mixed learning opportunities (e.g., formal, experiential, relational, and applied learning). But as an organization, we hadn’t developed a racial equity lens that could inform the pilot launch of Philanthropy 101.

As Philanthropy New York began its racial equity journey two years into delivering Philanthropy 101, the programming team began working with our facilitators to more intentionally embed a racial equity lens in each part of the series. From identifying a pipeline of diverse facilitators to selecting case studies, and rethinking the key takeaways of each of the modules, we used the racial equity choice point framework to challenge our assumptions and to test the status quo. For example, we worked across several iterations to make sure that we were not sugar-coating a version of the history of philanthropy that omits slavery, stolen lands and labor, and disregards the oftentimes undocumented long history of mutual aid and direct support in BIPOC, migrant, and immigrant communities.

"Great conversation on implicit bias and how "isms" are embedded in philanthropy - thought provoking and hopefully something I can bring back [to my organization]."

Can you both talk about the transition in the direction of the program? You’ve mentioned that it began with the goal of getting folks ready to begin their philanthropic career and now it’s more about having people bring their full selves into joining.  

Yi-Ching: One of Philanthropy 101’s strong points is that it creates a space for new members to engage with one another so that they begin their philanthropic careers knowing other people in the sector and the Philanthropy New York membership. We have heard so many people in philanthropy share how siloed the sector and the work typically is, so fostering that networking space is always top of mind. 

This is even more true since 2020, when we had to pivot to virtual programming and doing so helped us learn to be even more intentional about curating space for participants to connect with one another. I think one of the bonuses that came out of this intentional thinking was that we got to lean in to facilitating a learning environment that lifted up the wisdom in the “room.” We had always experimented with this in several of our cohort and peer network sessions, and it was during the last three years that we really leaned in. This meant that we made more space to ask our participants to reflect with one another as part of peer learning exchanges.

Carolyn: On the other end, as we engaged facilitators to lead the sessions, we also invited them to bring the full depth of their philanthropic experience to enhance the content of the session. Over the course of my time on the learning team, I’ve come to understand that lessons from stories and lived experience persist longer than simple facts. 

"[I took away the importance of] EMPATHY and service mind-set - being aware of power dynamics in philanthropy and how I can help flip that even in my role in administration, seeking to be in service of grantees not the other way around."

And over the years, how have you seen the program try to ensure that BIPOC staff new to the sector are more comfortable in the sector and empowered to show up as their true selves?  

Yi-Ching: We acknowledge that philanthropy is a very white sector. As we see our members diversifying their teams, we are cautiously heartened by the small shifts. One of the opportunities we have through Philanthropy 101 is to model a new way of being and working in, with, and beside philanthropy. We partner with long-tenured folks in philanthropy who are values-aligned and willing to share their wisdom and their journeys in a vulnerable way. Philanthropy 101 then becomes an invitation and a call to action - You are here, what do you believe you have the power to do in your role?

Carolyn: I’ve seen that when BIPOC facilitators share their lived experience with an openness and candor it invites thoughtful inquiry and mutual sharing/ trust within the room. 

"I liked how open the presenters were and how we were challenged to face implicit bias and system racism/injustice in an authentic way."

In terms of embedding equity in skill building, how did you ensure that the learnings and program experience overall look to drive a more equitable sector? Were there any specific strategies or actions that you’ve taken to promote equity as the program has developed? 

Carolyn: Firstly, we encourage candid discussions allowing individuals, especially people of color, to express their experiences and confront cognitive dissonance they may encounter within the sector. This open dialogue enables us to address uncomfortable truths and gain a more comprehensive understanding of equity challenges.

Secondly, we acknowledge the omnipresence of power dynamics within our sector and equip participants with tools to recognize and interrogate these dynamics. This empowers them to navigate power imbalances effectively and work towards more equitable outcomes.

In essence, our approach centers on creating a safe space for truth-telling and providing the necessary tools to navigate power dynamics, all aimed at driving a more equitable and inclusive sector as our program evolves.

"[I intend to bring back to my organization] how each member of the organization can tap into their source of power in order to change some of the dynamics that have been long existing in the sector."

"[I valued] the discussion about collaborative power (in our breakout room) and how to create more opportunities for our grantees through convening."


Did you encounter any resistance or barriers when attempting to move the program in a new direction? How did you overcome these challenges, if any?  

Yi-Ching: In our journey to steer the program towards a new direction, we did encounter some notable challenges. One of the most significant barriers we faced was the constraint of time. Each year, we grapple with the task of determining how much content can realistically be covered within the span of just two hours. When you factor in that some of this time is allocated to breakout sessions, allowing participants to connect with one another, we effectively have about 90 minutes for content delivery. This time constraint, combined with the wealth of knowledge and insights that our facilitators bring to the table, posed a significant challenge. It necessitated careful planning and prioritization to ensure that we could effectively convey the program's core messages and learning objectives within this limited time frame."

Additionally, we encountered resistance from some participants who were initially taken aback by the invitation to examine their roles within the sector through the lens of power and privilege. Occasionally, we received feedback from survey respondents expressing surprise or discomfort with this approach. Overcoming this challenge involved a combination of open communication, providing context for our program's goals, and emphasizing the importance of self-reflection and self-awareness in the journey towards a more equitable and inclusive sector. 

Carolyn: Despite these hurdles, we've remained committed to our mission of promoting equity and inclusivity within the sector. To evaluate the impact of our efforts, we rely on a combination of surveys and anecdotal feedback from participants. These tools serve as invaluable resources in assessing the program's effectiveness. Key indicators of impact are the degree to which participants feel they've achieved the learning objectives in each session, providing us with a clear understanding of how our program contributes to their growth, their understanding of the sector, and of the power dynamics within it.

Looking ahead, what are your future plans for the program in terms of incorporating more equity-based learning? Are there any areas you hope to improve or expand upon?

Carolyn:  Looking ahead, we have a clear vision for the program's future in terms of incorporating more equity-based learning. Firstly, we intend to delve deeper into the origins of philanthropy's wealth, recognizing that understanding this source is essential for addressing systemic power imbalances within the sector. This exploration aligns with our commitment to uncovering the roots of inequality and fostering a more equitable philanthropic landscape.

Yi-Ching: Additionally, we are dedicated to embracing reparative measures that foundations are actively exploring. These measures represent crucial steps in rectifying historical injustices and addressing systemic disparities. By incorporating these concepts into our program, we aim to equip participants with the knowledge and tools needed to actively contribute to the ongoing pursuit of equity within the philanthropic sector.

"I think that discussing Capitalism's tendency to funnel energy and resources into the nonprofit/NGO sector is warranted. This was sort of implicitly discussed during the section on inequality and White Supremacy etc., but I think that introducing explicit anti-capitalist discourse regarding the non-profit sector could bring potential blind spots into focus."

Philanthropy 101 begins on Friday, September 29th. Register today and learn more about this year's programming!