On a sunny summer Saturday morning, seven college-aged youth trickled into a collaboration space at the offices of the Surdna Foundation and the Andrus Family Fund to commence the yearlong Board Executives in Training Program (BETS). The organization’s commitment to this work was a long-standing pursuit of the Andrus Family Philanthropy Program (AFPP); for almost fifteen years, it had implemented innovative, inclusive, and flexible programing to engage family members of all ages and interests to get involved in the family’s philanthropies and in public service.
BETS itself had been facilitated previously for four cohorts of youth interested in learning more about the sector and the family legacy. As a returning facilitator of the BETS IV program, the history of this effort was ever-present; but for the young people taking their seat at the table, it was the beginning of a brand new experience in their lives—one with potential to transform their vision of who they were as individuals, students, family members, and future professionals.
This was the hope I carried with me on the first day of the program and one I shared with co-facilitator Bari Katz as we had co-designed the BETS V curriculum in the preceding months. Keenly aware of the program’s history and the changes that were taking place at the Andrus Family Fund (AFF), the stakes felt high. Under the new leadership of Executive Director, Leticia Peguero, AFF was transitioning into a refreshed strategic direction that placed social justice values at the center of its work. The organization was in the process of establishing a new mission statement and expressed a desire to revamp BETS V to reflect its current values and mission.
Prior to that morning, Bari and I worked diligently to reimagine and recreate BETS. I offered my institutional knowledge and professional experience as a grant-maker and Bari offered her tremendous expertise as an educator, facilitator, and social justice advocate. We grappled with tough questions about how to create a safe space for exploring concepts of power and privilege, while guiding young people through a process of awarding $25,000 to nonprofit projects that endeavored to improve outcomes for vulnerable youth. When the BETS V participants arrived that morning, Bari and I were confident in the possibility of what we created but recognized that it had never been tested.
Looking back on the year I spent working with Bari and the BETS V participants, one learning emerges strongly in the foreground: Placing the principles of social justice at the center of our program required us to approach philanthropy differently—not as a discipline but as a practice and this is what made the program great. It challenged participants to live in their learning and it leveled the playing field for multiple generations of the Andrus family to learn from another.
To illustrate this point, let me take you back to that first day. Had social justice principles been absent from the program, the approach to “day one” would have been different. We would have introduced Surdna Foundation, AFF and AFFP. We would have shared organizational history, vision, and set the stage to pursue effective, responsible grant-making that advanced AFF’s mission. These programmatic elements are important and were certainly present on that first day, but with social justice values foregrounded, these elements were not enough.
Day one of BETS V began with a series of activities designed to explore the concept of privilege, defined as “the unquestioned, unearned, most often unconscious advantages and expectations given to certain people solely because of their membership in a particular social group.” In doing so, we challenged the BETS participants to reflect on their identities, their actions, and their relationships to others. This fundamentally changed the frame within which BETS V participants understood and approached the opportunity to engage in philanthropy. It was no longer about the execution of grant-making, it was about the exploration of self, of family, of community and society.
If social justice were not placed at the center of the program from the outset, BETS V participants may have looked at older members of the Andrus family serving on AFF or Surdna’s boards as “experts” or “teachers” who could bestow the wisdom or opportunity of philanthropy on the younger generation. Within the context of social justice philanthropy, they became fellow travelers exploring their place in the world and their commitment to the ideals of equity and inclusion. On the final day of the BETS program, when the graduating cohort of BETS arrived to the Surdna and AFF’s offices to present their funding recommendations, this lesson became clear. AFF board members listened actively to their young relatives as they described their yearlong journey to understand their relationship to philanthropy. Their presentation prompted new questions and new insights from elder family members who seemed to face many of the same challenges in their service on the AFF Board. And in this, a dialogue was created—between, within, and across generations.
Based on my experience co-facilitating BETS V, I would offer one piece of advice: For foundations interested in pursuing next generation family philanthropy programs, consider a process by which you emphasize values explicitly and place them in the center of your efforts. Thanks to the leadership of AFF and to the expertise of my incredible teammate, we did this successfully and, in my estimation, helped open new doors for participants and the broader family.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on the Andrus Family Fund. For more on the history, goals, and strategies of the Andrus Family Fund and its BETS program, see the July 2015 FGN feature article, The Andrus Family Fund: Weaving a rich tapestry of youth philanthropy.