A Continuum of Learning: Investing in Philanthropy and Myself

A Continuum of Learning: Investing in Philanthropy and Myself


Katherine Porras, Momentum Fellow

When I moved to Oregon in 2013, I found myself captivated by the beauty of its green valleys and blue rivers. I had come to attend the Atkinson Graduate School of Management at Willamette University, then chose to stay because of professional opportunities for growth and my perception of Oregon as a ripe state for discussing equity and tackling what an equitable community would look like. A few months ago, I was thrilled to be accepted to the Momentum Fellowship's investment position at Meyer Memorial Trust. This is a unique opportunity to help serve marginalized communities, while growing professionally with an amazing cohort dedicated to the field of philanthropy.

It's been eight weeks since the Momentum Fellows first met at Philanthropy Northwest's office. For many of us, it has been a whirlwind of events. The fellowship required some of us to move across the state, country, or even continents. We are fortunate to have this opportunity and we all recognized its potential, not only forging our own career paths, but also for the magnitude of possible contribution when a group of nine diverse professionals striving for excellence work together towards a common goal: making the future of philanthropy more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

As for my role at Meyer Memorial Trust, it required me to make an intellectual move rather than a physical one. I went from working on the organizational redesign of Meyer to becoming the investment associate to steward our endowment. I work with Rukaiyah Adams, the chief investment officer, to manage the relationships with our external financial partners, perform due diligence and performance analysis, while actively seeking alignment opportunities between our financial strategies and our mission. Even though I went to business school and concentrated in finance, this day-to-day work presents daily opportunities for learning and stretching my skills. If anyone were to ask, what are my quick tools to keep me informed and relevant, I would say Investopedia and DealB%k. And of course my personal philosophy: always ask. My inquiries lead me to gain a better understanding of how individual things work, which is integral to understanding how the whole works.

Along with learning about investments, I participate in philanthropic activities like Meyer's Mission Day, where we volunteered at the Oregon Food Bank (photo above). In three hours, the 30 staff members were able to box 9,202 pounds of food, which will be used to serve 7,668 meals. It was inspiring to share this with my colleagues and see our accomplishment. The ability to quantify the impact of those few hours was a sweet gift back to us.

Learning Best Practices

Learning can take many forms. As I find myself learning on the job or gaining a deeper sense of impact through our volunteering experiences, structured learning can also offer different lessons. Last week, I reunited with the other Momentum Fellows as we participated in Philanthropy Northwest's Best Practices: Essential Skills & Strategies for New Grantmakers. This intense two-day training was packed with tons of information and with built-in opportunities to exchange ideas with others in the field. It's good to keep in mind the size of our field in relation to the needs found in our communities, to recognize that through integrity, collaboration, and transparency we can amplify our impact. This training reminds me that best practices, rules and regulations enable us to better serve our communities.

My top three takeaways from this training:

  1. It's important to establish policies and protocols on how to communicate with our past, current and potential grantees — and to have these protocols understood and followed throughout the organization.
  2. Impact investing continues to grow in popularity within our field and beyond, along with other strategies to maximize our desired impact.
  3. People in philanthropy are committed to service and to improving the field. We are a professional community and we are here to support one another.

I learned tons from the Best Practices speakers and participants, including the other Momentum Fellows. Until we meet again, let's continue learning — and asking.

Katherine Porras is one of three Momentum Fellows hosted by Meyer Memorial Trust. Read more about the Momentum Fellowship on our website, and stay tuned for more blog posts from our first cohort.


Submitted by Kristen Holway (not verified) on Fri, 11/20/2015 - 10:17am

LOVE THIS! Kat is such an amazing writer. And I wish I had asked more about her role at Best Practices because it's so unique. I'm looking forward to learning from her!