The older we get, if we are lucky and open-hearted, the more we seem to orbit in a panoply of worlds. Our many careers, our families, friends, kids and their friends, art classes, book clubs, garden nerds, current work, politics, neighborhoods, where we volunteer. They all make little Venn diagrams, like the ones we used in school to describe overlapping theories or principles.
I am particularly fascinated by the places where my worlds overlap. I love edges, confluences and the dark spaces in between, so last night was very exciting for me. Encore.org and Yale Alumni Nonprofit Alliance (YANA)hosted an evening at the offices of Atlantic Philanthropies in lower Manhattan. I have feet in both organizations and am very proud to be a passionate, active participant in each. I was an Encore 2015 Purpose Prize Fellow for my work in founding and running a passion project called Just Shea, which helped empower and protect women shea harvesters in Ghana. And for a little less time I have been a member of YANA, working with a diverse group of alums from many Yale schools and colleges who come together through an evinced interest in the non-profit sector.
YANA and Encore are a perfect match, coming together to augment each other’s mission and enhance outreach. The evening was an easy meet and greet. Mediterranean snacks, some lovely wine, the rain abating outside and a crowd of about 35 folks gathering to hear more about how these two organizations can provide opportunities to have a greater social impact in our communities.
After imbibing and some chatter, the door slid open to the conference room and Janet Shaw, New York Program Director for Encore Fellowships welcomed guests and panelists. There were four wise women seated at the table ready to tell stories, answer questions and hopefully inspire more good works across sectors.
After I unpacked my interest in these two organizations, which I saw as so integrally connected, Janet Shaw illuminated her personal story from three decades in pharma communications to jettisoning that for her encore career helping great non-profits find Encore Fellows from successful careers in the corporate sector. The paths people take, the twists and turns, all are so unexpected and the results are stunning.
The two other women at the table were Adele Brown, a current Encore Fellow in her early sixties who had been a private investigator among many careers. She was matched with Youth Inc. where she was supervised by her new younger colleague Katrina Huffman, also on the panel. In the midst of Brown’s fellowship, Huffman left to helm Change for Kids, where she has already brought on another Encore Fellow.
What we heard over and over was the joy and cooperative spirit that exists in these non-profit organizations. Janet said when she began at Encore she had to do a mind shift away from, “who are our competitors” to “how can we collaborate.” “I spent thirty years worrying about competitors,” she explained. So that was entirely new.
Katrina began her piece from a very personal place, revealing a passion for young people that emanated from her background growing up up in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where she never realized she was poor until arriving at college. Her church was a buffer to that poverty, providing so many amenities that might have been missed. She went to Broadway shows, summer camp and was surrounded by a fellowship of folks who cared. Her attraction to Change for Kids is that it provides many of the missing pieces that aren’t happening in today’s schools. Katrina provided detailed and wholehearted kudos for Encore Fellowships and the general idea of experienced talent. Katrina is an advocate and a wonderful spokesperson. In both instances she hired fellows to do marketing which she said ‘isn’t her thing’ and in both cases, her fellows delivered.
Katrina and Janet had a spirited back and forth extolling why the fellows program is as important for organizations as it is for for the fellows. These are the kinds of programs that make Encore.org so valuable.
Between Katrina, Janet and Adele, a list emerged of what makes Encore Fellows unique and how both fellow and nonprofit leader can set themselves up for success. To paraphrase:
- A fellow is a great way to fill a gap (As Katrina put it, “someone who understands what I don’t know…and I don’t know marketing!)
- A fellow is a thought partner who can “go to meetings with me, or for me.”
- A fellow has emotional maturity and can manage her own time.
- To set up for success with a fellow, nonprofit hosts need to properly integrate and onboard the fellow and onboard (including enough history so that the fellow isn’t offering up ‘last year’s big idea’ to a junior staffer too polite to point it out.)
- Nonprofits should understand that this isn’t just a consulting gig, it’s a matter of heart and head.
- Fellows need humility to do this job and t take the time to understand the culture of their host. Even for fellows with impressive backgrounds, they are joining a team of specialists and experts.
- A great fellow needs to a realist, flexible, and above-all passionate.
- Sometimes as a fellow it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
- Nonprofits are often filled with young people, so fellows often bring an intergenerational element to an organization and serve as a peer for a founder or ED. But that doesn’t mean the learning goes only one way. Fellows learn every day from their junior colleagues.
At the end of the evening there was a consensus that this was an important alliance. The YANA program brings a host of talented, brilliant new people into the encore circle and I hope to see new programs developed, funds raised and consciousness expanded on both sides. I think I see many more YANA/Encore partnerships going forward.