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One Foundation, Three Perspectives on SECF's Essential Skills & Strategies


Editor’s Note: On January 31 – February 1 this year, three staff members from the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley (CFCV) attended SECF’s Essential Skills & Strategies for New Grantmakers in Atlanta. Each of them took the time to offer some thoughts on their experience.

A Few Lessons Learned
Anna Sims, Grants and Communication Associate

Oftentimes in life, the best way to learn is to just do it – to simply jump in and get to it! That’s a large part of how I’ve learned what I’ve learned as the grants and communication associate at the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley after nearly two years. Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way, but in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we may have missed some key pieces to the puzzle.

We can only do so much with our limited time day to day, which is why it’s such a valuable opportunity to attend a workshop like Essential Skills & Strategies for New Grantmakers, hosted by SECF. This seminar reinforced much of what I’ve learned on the job. But it also introduced some key themes that I’ve never had the opportunity to learn and explore.

One of those key concepts, part of the Making Sound Funding Recommendations section, involved learning what healthy financials should look like when examining a grantee and making a sound funding recommendation. We studied key financial documents, such as 990s, balance sheets and income statements.

During Managing your Grants Portfolio, we were prompted to think critically about our processes, grant timelines, and were even encouraged to think about creating a grant “playbook,” so all staff members can access the processes for how grants operate.

In Navigating Legal and Ethical Issues, I learned that to protect our donors and our organization “you can’t do indirectly what you can’t do directly.” Try to avoid persisting to make a scenario work in roundabout ways if it isn’t able to work directly.

The seminar covered a wide array of topics in depth, and allotted for plenty of time for discussion among peers and instructors. Our community foundation is better off for my attending this workshop! 

Legal & Ethical Issues Session a Highlight
Josina Greene, Donor Services Officer                                                      

Entering the field of philanthropy nearly two years ago as the donor services officer for the CFCV was the best and most fulfilling choice I have ever made professionally. With that, I embraced the fact that in addition to the skills I already brought to the table, I had A LOT to learn! One lesson being: To best help our current and potential donors, it’s crucial for me to know, “can” we do what they are asking? Figuring out “how,” is the fun part!

ESS facilitators are as eager about teaching the content as they are about the attendees understanding it. While each did an amazing job of providing a crash course in all things grantmaking, the Navigating Legal and Ethical Issues module will resonate in my head for the entirety of my career.

I enjoyed completing the Ethical Case Studies with my peers, learning the Six Basic Rules of Grantmaking (charitable purpose, beneficiaries, self-dealing, rules & procedures, conflicts of interest, and legal advice), and discussing the following definitions:

  • Law: What you must do as grantmakers.

  • Ethics: What you should do as grantmakers when the law is silent or unclear.

Knowing how to recognize red flags is key when assisting donors with their charitable thought processes, and this session delivers that. Our ethical and legal mindset is what classifies us as a competent and fair philanthropic professional, as well as provides consistency in how we approach the decisions we face daily. So please, take advantage of ESS, as it is an excellent face-to-face resource for continuing education and professional development in our ever-changing field. 

A Valuable Experience for Newcomers and Veterans Alike
Kelli Parker, Director of Grants and Community Partnerships

Whether you’re just beginning your career as a grantmaker or have been doing this work for a few years, there’s much to gain from attending ESS. I first attended in 2014, but as our foundation has grown, we are doing more grantmaking through our undesignated funds. Because I work closely with this process, I was excited to attend this seminar again. ESS is an excellent opportunity to learn basics and best practices as well as apply what you are learning through scenarios. In addition to the information you learn, there are many other benefits to taking this course.

  1. The instructors work in philanthropy and can share both valuable information and practical examples. They allow for dialogue among the group so that you learn from your colleagues as well.

  2. This is an excellent opportunity to network with colleagues from all types of foundations. One of the many things I value about this field is the willingness to share knowledge and resources.

  3. You don’t know what you don’t know. I guarantee you will learn something new!

  4. And even if you are a seasoned grantmaker who finds the content very familiar, you will walk away with new ideas and find yourself looking at how you do your work through fresh eyes.

One exciting aspect of our field is that it is evolving and that makes it even more important to find ways to learn best practices in grantmaking and connect with our colleagues. This workshop offers the chance to do both!

Would you, or someone else from your foundation, benefit from Essential Skills & Strategies? Later this year, we'll open registration for the summer offering of ESS, taking place August 22-23 in Birmingham, Alabama!

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