A Year of Growth and Commitment: Philanthropy Northwest’s CEO, Jill Nishi, Reflects on Her First Year

A Year of Growth and Commitment: Philanthropy Northwest’s CEO, Jill Nishi, Reflects on Her First Year

Photo of Philanthropy Northwest's CEO Jill Nishi with a microphone

How fast a year flies! This month marks my one-year anniversary with Philanthropy Northwest, and a year of learning from our dynamic network of funders in our six-state region, our insightful board members and my remarkable colleagues here at Philanthropy Northwest and The Giving Practice.   

Like many organizations, Philanthropy Northwest is navigating the complex and uncertain times we all find ourselves in, determining how to make sure we are best poised to effectively support the field and that our contributions add value to the sector, and ultimately the communities philanthropy seeks to serve.  

Over the last year, I have talked to many of you who shared your organizational commitments to more equitable outcomes for people in your communities – particularly for those historically furthest from economic, social and educational opportunity. Whether you are investing in urban or smaller rural communities, there is a recognition that we must all intentionally change our practices, organizations and systems to collectively contribute to more healthier and vibrant communities – where benefits accrue to all, regardless of race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or immigration status. While we may not use the same language to describe this work taking place in very different environments, there is a growing commitment across our network.  

We are all learning and wrestling with how to manifest our commitments in concrete ways from our staff and boards increasingly reflecting the communities we serve; to increasing more multi-year general operating grants – signaling trust to our nonprofit partners, to a healthy interrogation of who is being funded (and who is not), with increasing resources going to support Black, Indigenous and other People of Color-led and -serving institutions. And yet, there is still so much more to do.  

Living into our commitments  

Philanthropy Northwest seeks to grow and deepen our commitment to center racial equity in our organization and in our work. Over the past year, this has included moving our own resources to Indigenous communities – we have added a standing line item in our organizational budget to make a 'real rent' payment to the Duwamish tribe to recognize our Seattle office presence on their historic lands. We examined and implemented a more equitable approach to reduce the compounding salary gaps of percentage-based cost-of-living adjustments over time, opting to use a flat dollar increase across all staff. We are also pleased to launch our inaugural podcast – Can We Talk About..? – which uplifts the inspiring stories of how this network is advancing racial equity in the governance of our organizations – starting with our own Philanthropy Northwest journey. 

In addition to this, we embarked on our disability inclusion journey by signing on to the Disability & Philanthropy Forum's Disability Inclusion Pledge in 2022, and since then have been leaning into the intersectionality of racial equity and disability inclusion, and thinking more intentionally about how that shows up in our programs, policies and communications. 

Reimagining the future with a refreshed strategy 

At this pivotal time for our sector, Philanthropy Northwest is currently undergoing a strategy development process that will guide our accountability to realizing our collective commitments. Importantly, we are learning from all of you in this work. Thank you to so many of you who have offered your thoughts and feedback on how Philanthropy Northwest can be of the greatest value and impact, taking time out of your busy schedules to respond to our survey, participate in a focus group and/or meet with me over Zoom, coffee or a meal! In sum, here is what you hope to see more of from Philanthropy Northwest:  

  • Exercising our trust, credibility and leadership to contribute to shaping the practices of the field;  

  • Using our unique convening power to facilitate cross-sector collaboration and explore new funding partnerships and models;  

  • Leveraging Philanthropy Northwest's platform to surface innovative practices, particularly around operationalizing a commitment to equity to catalyze adoption and replication;  

Over this summer, we are working to sharpen clarity on Philanthropy Northwest's 'Northstar' and our priorities that will guide us over the next few years as we celebrate our 50th anniversary and build toward the next half-century. The last three years have no doubt proved challenging on multiple levels, and yet this moment also brings a window of opportunity to change, shift, pivot, innovate and potentially even transform. Stay tuned for more in the coming months and thank you for your support, feedback and counsel during this first year.