Six Years Later, Hull Fellows Experience Continues to Make an Impact

Editor’s Note: SECF is now taking applications for the 2017-18 class of Hull Fellows! Click here for more information and to submit your application. Applications are due Friday, April 28!

I won't say that I was cocky or that I believed I knew all I needed to, but there was a large part of me that understood philanthropy as a simple and straightforward mechanism of American society. If the me of ten years ago was questioned, I would, more than likely, admit that the world of organized philanthropy was as about as complex as grass farming. Plow ground, sew seeds, water in, wait eight weeks, and bam...grass.

My year in the Hull Fellowship program changed this view completely. Not only did I discover that large social issues are a bit more complicated than basic agriculture, but also I found that many of the solutions I touted had been tried repeatedly, with little to no success. I learned that my family's foundation was as unique as it was common, that many of the issues we faced had been addressed by other family foundations in the past, and that many of our quirks were our very own. There were literally hundreds of insights on operations and governance. I imagine the virtual lightbulb above my head burning with a blinding light by the end of my fellowship year.

Yet, these were not the most important things. My Hull Fellows class remains one of my favorite groups of people I have ever encountered. The diversity of background, of opinion, of thought, and of context drove incredibly rich discussions that forever altered how I understood parts of my world. There were fierce conversations, incredible moments of honesty, lasting insights, and friendships forged through it all. To this day, should a question or need arise, I have 19 people whom I trust intensely to answer my call. I was affirmed in my belief that it takes great people to make great ideas work. These were truly great people.

My experience also reaffirmed the importance of relationships in the work of philanthropy. Time and time again, case studies, stories, anecdotes, and ongoing projects spoke of the need to connect with communities and engage with everyone involved to create more lasting and sustainable change. I felt that same draw to connect with my cohort, in hopes that by remaining friends, we all might benefit from each other’s experiences in philanthropy.

In the end, the year I spent learning and growing with my class will remain one of the most formative in my life. Not for any particular new knowledge – though there was plenty – but rather for the unification of bits and pieces of thought, and for the discussions that continue to this day. What I gained was far beyond what I gave, and were it an option, I would gladly and eagerly do it all again. The Hull Fellowship program exceeded every expectation of mine, and as the chair of the program, it continues to exceed the expectations of all those involved.

With the application process underway for the upcoming Hull Fellowship class, I am excited to see how the next year unfolds, who is sitting in the room come November, and to what heights they may soar. Whatever the outcome, I can at least guarantee that philanthropy, particularly in the South, will be better for this class, and all those that follow. Such is the magic of the Hull Fellows program.

Gilbert Miller is a trustee of the Beloco Foundation and a member of the SECF Board of Trustees.


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