Build Your Pipeline of Philanthropic Talent - Exponent Philanthropy
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Build Your Pipeline of Philanthropic Talent

What keeps our members up at night? Succession, or the crucial task of passing the leadership baton.

Building a pipeline of philanthropic talent to assume key leadership roles—on the board, on staff, or otherwise—is one great way to prepare for succession. Through our Next Gen Fellows Program, a 6-month training intensive for philanthropy’s future leaders, we’ve been lucky enough to have a window onto what readies the next generation for great work in the field.

Here are a few recommendations.

Facilitate Connections to Peers

Philanthropy can be a lonely enterprise, and particularly so for young people. Luckily, there are great ways to connect locally and nationally with young people involved in giving.

In your home community, look for local chapters of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) and Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN). You might also find a giving circle for young people at your local community foundation. Nationally, we’re happy to connect young Exponent Philanthropy members to one another, or tell you more about our trainings and other resources for members of the next generation.

Prioritize Education

Giving well is not easy, and making time for education is crucial. Here are areas to consider that are of particular interest to the next generation.

  • Your history—Contrary to the common concern that younger generations will move philanthropy in new and potentially frightening directions, we find the next generation to be keen to understand and respect history.
  • Legal matters—For foundations in particular, the legalities of giving are complex and often counter-intuitive.
  • Investments—Many next generation leaders are hungry to understand investments—and often raise questions about aligning investments with mission.
  • Strategies beyond dollars—Research tells us that Gen X, Gen Y, and beyond are interested in being hands-on in their giving, not wanting to simply write checks. Are there opportunities for your future leaders to organize site visits? Provide technical assistance to grantees? Participate in an upcoming nonprofit convening?
  • Trends—From crowdfunding to design thinking, learning about the trends affecting today’s philanthropy allows younger leaders to keep the giving timely and bring fresh ideas to the table.
  • Impact—Today’s younger generations are quick to question the difference philanthropy is making. Make it a priority to learn about ways to move philanthropy toward greater impact and assess your progress.

Where and how to get this education? Great sources abound among our resources; from our colleagues at the Council on Foundations, National Center for Family Philanthropy, and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations; in publications like the Stanford Social Innovation Review; and in dozens of philanthropy blogs.

You’ll also find local learning opportunities through regional associations of grantmakers and topical learning opportunities through various philanthropy affinity groups. Nonprofit resource centers in many communities also offer short and low-cost trainings relevant to funders.

Share Power and Responsibility, Really

To truly open the door to next generation leaders, you must share power and responsibility. Whether it’s web design or social media or passion for a particular giving area, harness the excitement young leaders bring to the table, and find suitable—and real—roles for them to play in your philanthropy.

“People rise to the standards they are held to,” says Lucy Cantwell of New Belgium Family Foundation, “so something like a silent seat at the table so younger folks can see how things work (but no bump up in voting power) isn’t good enough in my opinion. It doesn’t ask enough from the younger folks.”

Sharing power and responsibility is a two-way street, of course. For young people, make it a priority to get clear about your own voice, your own passions, and your own connection to your philanthropic endeavor. Gaining this clarity helps you contribute more effectively to the philanthropic effort at hand, and to make it your own.

So go ahead. Take the leap. Make it your own. Succession is a certainty in most philanthropic endeavors, and everyone fares better with good preparation.

Senior Program Director Janice Simsohn Shaw currently oversees Exponent Philanthropy’s Master Juggler Executive Institute and Next Gen Fellows Program, as well as other work engaging young people in philanthropy. Janice is a popular facilitator at conferences, and she loves designing interactive, fun learning experiences. Janice previously was a small-town newspaper reporter, led Earth Day events at the United Nations, and organized a cross-country charity bike ride, among other professional adventures. 


  1. […] mile and create truly innovative, tailored structures to support board leadership development. They might diligently work to build a pipeline of philanthropic talent as discussed by my colleague … creating junior boards or advisory […]

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