Photo credit: Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash
You’re the Vice President of Administration at Pacific Foundation Services. What inspired you to get into philanthropy?
I grew up in Berkeley and was always conscious of the important social movements that started in the Bay Area. At U.C. Santa Cruz, I majored in Community Studies and essentially studied how social change is created. Then, after college, I worked for a small nonprofit in Santa Cruz and one of my primary responsibilities was to lead grant-funded programming and report back to funders about our results. I saw firsthand the value of grant funding and the amazing impact it could have, but I also saw the difference between a good grant that really empowered us to do our work, and a difficult grant that required lots of legwork and outsized administrative efforts. From that vantage, I became interested in philanthropy.
When I started at PFS 11 years ago, our organization was much smaller. As a Grants Manager, I got exposure to many different foundations and all aspects of grants management, and over time, I’ve been able to grow with the company. I’m also a systems person—I thrive on being organized, creating efficiencies, and working behind the scenes—so this role marries my love for spreadsheets with my love for supporting important social causes. It’s a perfect fit!
What topic in philanthropy is top of mind for you at the moment?
We’re in a very interesting moment in philanthropy. When I started at PFS in 2009, there was a lot of excitement about “big data,” and ways to use data to measure impact and prove results. Today, even with, or perhaps in response to, increased divisiveness in our country, there is a growing focus on DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and it’s great to see how committed the philanthropic sector is to that work. If there’s any silver lining to growing inequality in our country, I’d say it’s the growing willingness to talk about power and privilege and how that plays out in philanthropy. I’m encouraged by the heartfelt and introspective conversations that are happening among funders and grantees about how we can work together to maximize impact. People are talking more about “trust-based philanthropy”: there’s a growing interest in shifting away from the old model of making nonprofits prove they’re worthy of funding, toward more authentic partnership with nonprofits, structuring grants in a way that really meets their needs and advances their work.
How do these themes show up in your work at PFS?
At the staff level and as an organization, we’ve been doing a lot of work around DEI and ways that it guides our work —from making our clients’ websites more accessible, to incorporating gender inclusivity in our database and communications. Our Grants Management team continues to focus on changes we can make to grant applications to make them as user-friendly as possible and minimize the burden on grantees. It’s been exciting and really inspiring to see the PFS staff think about inclusion and access in all aspects of our work.
Here in the Bay Area, our region is changing rapidly in both positive and challenging ways. As you consider the changes, what’s your greatest hope for the Bay Area?
I hope we can find a way to create more equity and opportunity for all members of our community. I loved growing up here, because of its racial and socioeconomic diversity, as well as the diversity of perspectives, where artists, activists and others have always challenged the status quo. California and the Bay Area have been at the forefront of so many innovations and there are many brilliant minds here. I would love to see that creativity and brilliance tapped in a way that can benefit everyone so we can balance economic success stories with excellent public schools, accessible healthcare, appropriate housing, and opportunities for all.
How has your work changed your outlook?
When I was younger, I felt the need to always have the answer or the solution. I tended to work independently and want to fix things. At PFS, I’ve learned so much about the importance of getting input, ideas, and help from other people—and I’ve seen how much stronger my own work is through collaboration. At PFS we have a truly collaborative organizational culture. People here prioritize doing the best work over personal recognition.
Our world has benefitted from the leadership of so many change-makers, past and present. Who do you especially admire?
I am a huge fan of writer and nonprofit leader, Vu Le, author of the highly insightful, weekly blog, Nonprofit AF. I really admire his writing and his perspective on philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector has helped to shape my own thinking. He’s a progressive, thoughtful, and super funny voice for our sector–I love starting my week with him!
Before this interview, I asked you to think about PFS’s five organizational values—generosity, respect, integrity, inclusion, commitment and humility—and share how one of them shows up in your day-to-day work. Which one did you chose?
I chose humility, which is very important to me personally and to all of us organizationally at PFS. I care deeply about doing the best possible work, and I’ve learned that it takes humility to hear feedback from others, to be willing to learn, and to do things better. Humility is also really crucial in philanthropy. We are in a privileged position to help nonprofits that are making an impact on people’s lives and in our communities. Knowing that we don’t have all the answers is really important for all grantmakers and having humility as one of our corporate values is one of the things that fuels my longevity at PFS.
Outside of work, where do you look for inspiration?
Having grown up here, I’m fortunate to have amazing friends and family close by. Being able to engage and have conversations with them keeps me grounded and inspired. I also love that the Bay Area offers urbanity and beautiful natural surroundings—spending time outdoors, unplugging, and seeing the timelessness of nature regardless of what else is happening in the news or in day-to-day life, is inspiring.
As you look to the future, what issue in our society feels especially urgent?
Honestly, there are so many issues that feel urgent right now it’s incredibly hard to pick one, but climate change is especially frightening. I’ve been alarmed to see the impact it’s had in my own lifetime and am worried about what the future will bring if we don’t make some significant changes. My greatest hope is that in the face of this crisis, we’ll feel the urgency and act both as individuals and as a society to take serious, immediate action.
And lastly, can you recommend a great book you’ve read recently?
I’m a big reader and I’ve enjoyed some great books lately, but if I had to pick one it would be, “There, There” by Tommy Orange. The book tells the stories and struggles of different Native American characters living in Oakland leading up to the “Big Oakland Powwow.” I live in Oakland, so I related to the setting and loved the writing. I also appreciated that the book brings forward perspectives and indigenous voices that don’t often get told.