I’m writing this post from my home in Staunton, Virginia (the town where I was born, about three hours south of DC in the Shenandoah Valley). The birds are noisy this morning, the sun is shining through the trees, and from my upstairs deck I have a panoramic view of the mountains across the valley.
In June, when I told everyone I was leaving the Meyer Foundation, I said I hoped to build a consulting practice that would allow me to remain engaged with nonprofits and philanthropy in the DC region. Since then, many people have asked for more specifics about what I wanted to do. To be honest, the experiences of moving and job transition were overwhelming, and I wasn’t prepared for those questions.
Now, nearly a month into this transition and with the benefit of wisdom and encouragement from many friends and colleagues, I’m ready to talk about what I want to do.
My plan is to build a consulting practice focused on philanthropy that includes three types of work:
Program Design, Implementation, and Review
From my own experience and that of colleagues, I know that foundations periodically experience workload and staffing bottlenecks. This is especially true when engaged in planning, launching new programs or initiatives, and reviewing the impact of past work. As a seasoned professional with significant community knowledge and considerable experience designing, launching, and refining programs, I’d like to help.
When I say help, I mean roll up my sleeves and work side by side with clients to get important work done. My goal is to augment the capacity of existing staff, not drain it — and to deliver solid work products that don't require overly elaborate processes. While I'm happy to provide strategy recommendations if asked (see below), I'm also interested in working with foundations that know where they're headed and simply need some extra capacity to get there.
I’m also willing to fill in temporarily for program staff during periods of transition. Doing some grantee-facing work is important to me because I plan to do more writing and research (also see below), and want to remain grounded in the day-to-day realities of funders, nonprofits, and those they serve.
Research, Writing, and Communications
For more than 20 years, I’ve been engaged in research and writing about nonprofit governance and leadership — first as the project manager and co-author of BoardSource’s early national surveys of nonprofit boards, then as a co-author of the Daring to Lead 2006 and Daring to Lead 2011 reports on nonprofit executive directors, and as a manager and communications strategist for a half dozen other projects. I also published more than 30 online opinion pieces for The Chronicle of Philanthropy between 2010 and 2013. I’m planning to renew my role as a regular Chronicle contributor, and am looking for other writing and research projects at the intersection of philanthropy, nonprofit governance and leadership, fundraising and financial sustainability, and equity.
Strategy Consultation for Foundations and Individual Donors
I’ve had the privilege over the years to connect with a few start-up foundations and individual donors who were at critical junctures in developing programs or giving strategies, and I’d like to continue that work. I’m not billing myself a full-service philanthropic advisor — that space is already crowded and I don’t want to compete with the many skilled individuals and organizations that offer comprehensive back office and advisory services. But I would like to engage where I can add value in developing or refining giving strategies for foundations and donors with specific interest areas where I have expertise, such as strategies for building grantee capacity and reducing inequity in the DC region.
Two questions have come up frequently as I’ve talked with others about my plans.
First, can I really do this work from Staunton? Absolutely. I’m less than three hours from downtown Washington, and I can be available for in-person meetings even with limited notice. I plan to spend a few days in DC several times a month. I also have a robust internet connection and am an aficionado of Zoom video conferencing, so I don’t think location will be a problem.
Second, am I open to consulting with foundations outside the DC region? Yes — particularly around the areas of grantee capacity building and nonprofit leadership and governance.
Many thanks to friends and colleagues who have been generous with their time and advice as I talked through these ideas — and to those who kept asking what I wanted to do. I’d love your feedback and suggestions as I continue to explore the road ahead.