Pathways into philanthropy: Philanthropy NW’s Momentum Fellowship

“Philanthropy is so white.”

These are words you’ll hear every time members of the sector gather. I heard that sentiment recently at Philanthropy Northwest’s annual conference in Vancouver, Wash., and again this week at the Cambridge Associates Impact Investing Forum in Denver, Colo. Our communications director, Kimberly A.C. Wilson, recently heard newcomers utter the phrase at ComNet17, a conference for communications folks working in the independent sector. An article that ran last year in Nonprofit Quarterly reflects the state of philanthropy today, with members of racial and ethnic minorities making up only 16 percent of foundation CEOs and 24 percent of  full-time grantmaker employees.

Homogeneity is a perennial nugget in philanthropy, still true after much discussion and effort to diversify.

But it should not be the case.

A few years ago, I joined CEOs from a handful of foundations and Philanthropy Northwest to create a fellowship program to bring greater diversity into philanthropy by opening the doors of philanthropy to members of communities long underrepresented in its staff and leadership, particularly communities of color, for successful careers in the philanthropic sector. The Momentum Fellowship program was our strategy to create meaningful professional experiences and pathways for people from historically marginalized populations to enter into the field.

In late 2015, the first cohort of two-year Philanthropy Northwest Momentum Fellows dispersed to six foundations in the Northwest: Marguerite Casey Foundation and Pride Foundation of Washington; The Oregon Community Foundation, Northwest Health Foundation and Meyer in Oregon, and Rasmuson Foundation in Alaska.

That inaugural class of nine mostly focused on the grantmaking side of philanthropy but also included an investment fellow. Each received professional development and networking opportunities, including peer-learning retreats, networking, professional coaching and trainings offered through Philanthropy Northwest and their host foundations. In return, host foundations got the chance to learn from and alongside thoughtful emerging leaders, dedicated to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in philanthropy.

Meyer’s initial three Momentum Fellows, Sharon Wade-Ellis, Marcelo Bonta and Katherine Porras, each shared fresh perspective, thoughtful approaches to their focus areas and an extensive range of personal and professional experiences. Their contributions — and questions — have been invaluable to our efforts to become a more just and equitable organization and employer working to eliminate barriers to populations that have experienced the greatest disparities.

The first class of Momentum Fellows recently wrapped up their work here and across the Northwest. Five are working full-time in philanthropy. Most of the others are pursuing other opportunities to remain in the sector. Even as their fellowships ended, their fellow-ship — as peers and colleagues — continues.

The second class of fellows, 11 in all, arrived last month at seven Northwest foundations: Rasmuson Foundation in Anchorage; Whatcom Community Foundation in Bellingham; Meyer, The Collins Foundation and the Women's Foundation of Oregon in Portland; Marguerite Casey Foundation in Seattle; and Empire Health Foundation in Spokane.

This time around, the fellows have been placed organization-wide: from grant and grantmaking operations and research and evaluation, to communications and community engagement.

The idea, in the beginning as now, is to expose newcomers to philanthropy, and those looking for growth in the field, to opportunities inside the sector that over time will lead to greater representation of racial and ethnic minorities in foundations and more broadly within the independent sector.

So please, join me in welcoming Meyer’s new fellows: Mijounga Chang, Lauren Waudé and Denise Luk to Meyer. We are lucky to have them!

— Doug