Momentum Fellowship CEO: Max Williams

Max Williams, The Oregon Community Foundation

On the job since: 2012
Foundation founded in: 1973
Geographic scope: Oregon
Grants made in 2015: $103 Million
Staff: 87 FTE
Percentage of staff representing communities of color: 30%

How did you come to the decision to host a Momentum Fellow?

As we worked with Philanthropy Northwest's CEO cohort around the issues of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) the idea of a fellowship that could form a pipeline for underrepresented individuals into philanthropy was raised as something we might do together and use the cohort model to support the participants. It fit nicely with the EDI work that OCF was already engaged in and gave us an immediate action we could take to make a difference in this discussion. 

What has been a challenge for you and your foundation, related to diversity, equity and inclusion in philanthropy, and how are you working on it?

One challenge in advancing OCF’s equity commitment is developing authentic relationships in communities around the state. Because OCF is a grantmaker, there is a built-in power dynamic. We need to have genuine relationships in order to have honest conversations about how OCF can be a real partner to address community issues.  Trust-building takes time and we recognize this and intend to be consistent and intentional in our outreach and inclusion of underrepresented communities. Sharing the work we are doing and the effort we are making while preserving our culture of humility is a challenge and we invite others in the community to act as ambassadors and allies to the foundation in spreading the information on what we are working on.

What have you and your foundation learned from hosting a Momentum Fellow?

Dalian Yates, OCF Momentum Fellow

Hosting a fellow is a major time commitment. Staff must put in the pre-planning time and ongoing support to ensure that the fellow has a successful experience. Our staff and leaders have been very willing and engaged; however, it takes a dedicated senior leader to provide overall mentorship and guidance, and staff and leaders from the entire foundation to dedicate time to the learning.

What would success look like for philanthropy and diversity, equity and inclusion?

To have more people from underrepresented areas in this field and help the field evolve to be genuinely responsive and connected to historically underrepresented communities. That would be reflected in our board, staff, volunteers and grantmaking. It would ultimately lead to a closing of the opportunity gap and real and discernable progress for those impacted communities. 

What advice would you give to other foundations interested in hosting a Momentum Fellow and/or integrating diversity, equity and inclusion into their work?

Hosting a fellow requires a significant time commitment and coordination amongst staff at the host foundation. The foundation should be very clear about what it is looking for in a fellow and the amount of staff time it is willing and able to devote to mentorship. The foundation must also be clear about what it hopes to achieve with the fellow as a final outcome — To develop a future leader in philanthropy? To diversify our own workforce? To mentor and give an individual of color an opportunity they would otherwise not have? — and then construct a fellowship around that vision.

What’s a resource you would recommend to funders interested in learning more about this work?

Seek out those that are doing this work already. The body of work produced by the D5 Coalition is a great place to start. 

What’s one more question we should ask you, and how would you answer it?

Q. Is there something we should know about communications?
A. I think it’s important to be clear with all involved, board and staff, about what the goals are in hosting a fellow. This includes being intentional in communications about the role, how it will support the work of the foundation and its direct relationship to the organization’s equity commitment. I’m not sure you can over-communicate this, both internally and externally.

Max Williams is president and CEO of The Oregon Community Foundation, working with Momentum Fellow Dalian Yates.
Learn more about our nine Momentum Fellows and five foundations supporting this fellowship in our July 2016 Virtual Roundtable.