3 January 2020

Supporting the next generation of people working in philanthropy

Sian Williams and Jessica Loring report on how the idea for a ‘next gen’ network came from their own experiences of working in the foundation sector. Following a survey to test demand for such a grouping, a new ACF network has been born.

As officer-level team members at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch), we feel that many sector events are targeted towards senior professionals, meaning that some foundation staff are missing out on opportunities to learn and develop their skills and networks.

Currently, there are some fantastic networks and initiatives in the sector promoting collaboration, building connections, and working to increase the ambition and effectiveness of philanthropy, such as Grant Funders’ Network, Ten Years’ Time, and the Grant Givers’ Movement. However, we feel there is a gap for a group that is specifically aimed at those who are early in their career or new to philanthropy and that is open to all roles – from grant administration and finance to communications and policy. We believe that such a network would provide an exciting opportunity to create new conditions within the sector and deepen our collective knowledge.

Testing the waters

After discussing our plans with the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF), it was agreed that we would circulate a short survey to see if there was an appetite for such a grouping. We were delighted that so many foundation staff took the time to share their views on what would be most valuable to them. There were several requests for the survey data to be shared, so this article provides an overview of the feedback and our proposed next steps.

The survey aimed to establish what activities and support such a network could offer, and what the level of demand might be. Responses express a strong appetite across the board for skills development sessions, work shadowing opportunities, informative issue-based sessions and talks from senior foundation staff. Of course, this demand is not necessarily limited to those early in their career or new to philanthropy.

The survey was circulated widely via the ACF membership and social media, so respondents were self-selecting. Overall, we received 88 responses. Age-wise, the majority of respondents are aged 25-35 (59%), the next biggest group are those aged 36 or above (32%), followed by 18-24 year olds (9%). There is a fairly equal mix of responses from ‘senior’ (manager level and above) and ‘junior’ professionals. Most respondents have worked in the foundation sector for less than three years, although some have prior experience in the charity world.

Framing the network

One key question we hoped to answer through the survey was ‘who is the target audience for the network?’. We suggested possibilities of an ‘under 35s’ or a ‘new to philanthropy’ framing. Responses highlight that age may not be a good selector in this field as career paths vary so widely in philanthropy. Instead, the survey indicates different levels of demand for three possible networks: new to philanthropy (open to any age or career level); career development (open to any age or career level); or early-level career in the philanthropy sector (targeted at more junior roles such as interns, assistants and officers).

Based on the survey responses and our own positions, it is this third framing that we plan to take forward. Feedback suggests that there may be something common to the experiences and needs of individuals in non-management positions that could be well supported by an ACF network, to allow for collaboration and co-learning.

Next steps

Some respondents express an interest in running sessions and there are also calls for events not to be restricted to London. We envisage that there will be opportunities to link up with regional funder forums across the UK and we would welcome co-design of future events.

Our aim is to hold the first ACF ‘next gen’ network meeting in Spring 2020. We are keen to have further input and collaborate as these plans develop. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss our plans or get involved: [email protected]

*This article originally appeared in the December 2019 edition of Trust & Foundation News*