The Humility to Listen and the Confidence to Give

Catherine Parker
Program Coordinator
The Philanthropy Workshop

Glenn E. Martin, Founder of JustLeadershipUSA, discusses the importance of grassroots advocacy with cohort members during Module 3 : New York, April 2016.

Glenn E. Martin, Founder of JustLeadershipUSA, discusses the importance of grassroots advocacy with cohort members during Module 3 : New York, April 2016.

As a program coordinator at The Philanthropy Workshop, it’s been incredible to witness how cohort members have grown more confident in their philanthropy throughout the TPW Intensive, TPW's first-year experience which culminates in their strategic philanthropy presentations.  

During Module 1, cohort members learned how to clarify their mission, vision and values, and expand their toolkit to consider how the investment of one’s time, talent, and treasure can make lasting change on issues that matter. In Module 2, they deepened their experiential learning in India, listening to leaders discuss different approaches and tools to make social change at scale. 

During Module 3 in New York, cohort members heard from expert practitioners who helped them understand how philanthropists can partner with and support effective leaders, use advocacy for social change, and measure results. Here are some of the lessons our diverse group of participants took away from the week:

In for the long haul
Often intractable societal and economic problems are complex and deeply-rooted, requiring long term commitments that tackle systemic inequities and structural change. Philanthropists are uniquely positioned to fund visionaries who are willing to further a social change agenda, take a long-term perspective, and persevere even in the face of difficulty and setbacks. Sometimes it is essential for philanthropists to identify leaders and support them within the larger ecosystem, where incremental change is made over the course of years—sometimes decades—before seeing results.

Start a conversation
Oftentimes, funders don’t know what their partners need and partners are reluctant to tell them. Organizations often lack the financial security and freedom that come with general operating support. While philanthropists should be outcome-orientated, they also have a responsibility to ensure the health and sustainability of partners. Sometimes a candid conversation surrounding “what do you need?” or “who would you hire next?” is the spark that creates lasting partnerships and room for growth.

The truth of grassroots
Those closest to the problem can often be closest to the solution. When partnering, it is important not only to keep the beneficiary or communities served in mind, but also to work collaboratively to set the agenda and determine the criteria for success.  Grassroots leaders, by virtue of their proximity and knowledge of the issues are well positioned to inform a theory of change and to alter hearts and minds.

Less is more with many
Collaborative funding models can enhance not only the functioning and viability of a program or organization, by increasing its financial health and access to expertise, but also provide an excellent forum for donors to learn and accelerate change. When multiple stakeholders come to the table with a common goal, it can take time and effort to align priorities, but can leverage the impact of philanthropic capital.

Learn from your peers
Learning does not stop outside the classroom or beyond the field. As global citizens, philanthropy can be a joyful practice that incorporates wisdom gained not only from professional experience or previous successes and failures, but also from peers. Cross-pollinating ideas, making connections, and taking risks together are as essential to philanthropy as are an entrepreneurial spirit and will.


Catherine Parker is a program coordinator at The Philanthropy Workshop. For more information, follow Twitter @TPWgivebetter or visit

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