Why Reflective Practices for Philanthropy?

June 5, 2018

Editor's Note: This is a condensed LinkedIn post from Jan Jaffe, Senior Partner at The Giving Practice. Jan will be hosting a two-hour workshop for Philanthropy Northwest members June 21 in Seattle. 

In philanthropy, we have two big jobs.

The first is to build deep knowledge about the "what" of the work that we are supporting. It might be human rights, housing reform or having a vibrant arts community in a specific place. We stay current with new knowledge, find networks for ongoing learning, and work to build expertise.

The second job is to put that expertise into play – "the how" of the work. How do we nurture generative thinking when there are power differentials? How do we collaborate with partners who have different perspectives? How do we introduce or sustain diversity, equity and inclusion inside a foundation or a field?

Rarely are these efforts easy. Hardly ever do they have simple, technical solutions. And yet, some philanthropy practitioners are able to bravely wade in to the complexity and confusion that comes with the work, navigate high-stakes situations and forge meaningful insights, connections and solutions.

How do they do it—what practices do they use, and how did they learn them?

I’ve explored these questions my entire career. This has led me to other fields—medicine, social work and even business—where there is research and training to help professionals do this second job. Learning about "the how" of the work is not part of our culture in philanthropy.

But what might happen if we did? Where could we go, and what could we accomplish?

Our sector is understandably fueled by the “urgency of now” to get results for the fields and communities we want to support. Taking the time to reflect on our actions can feel like a luxury rather than a vital necessity. What’s more, we face a learning edge in philanthropy when it comes to how we invest in staff and board capacity as well as that of our partners to improve 'the how' of the work. It’s new territory.

But what better time to build reflective practices than now? Few of the problems we face have technical solutions or can be solved by financial means alone. Philanthropy’s untapped resource is building what each of us-foundation staff, trustees, and grant partners, as well as those working in philanthropy-serving organizations-can bring to the work.

I’m delighted to be offering a workshop for members of Philanthropy Northwest to explore and “test drive” the how of their work. For more information, visit our registration page.

Want to dive deeper than a two-hour session? Visit our project site and download the guide.

Philanthropy's Reflective Practices is a project of The Giving Practice, the national consulting firm of Philanthropy Northwest. Our purpose is to help you build what you bring to the work of philanthropy.