Family Philanthropy Speaks: A Conversation with CC Gardner Gleser

CC Gardner Gleser is the first non-family chair of the Andrus Family Fund and is the Director of Programs and Strategic Initiatives at the Satterberg Foundation. In this Family Philanthropy Speaks conversation with Nick Tedesco, CC shares her path to philanthropy, how her own history intersects with the Satterberg family’s wealth creation, and the value of independent directors in the boardroom.

About the Series

Philanthropy is a practice borne out of compassion and commitment—and one that is deeply rooted in family. It’s also a practice that must continue to evolve to effectively meet the needs of the communities it seeks to serve. Thankfully, there are countless social sector leaders who are advancing the field with their bold ideas and unwavering enthusiasm for the greater good. The National Center for Family Philanthropy is honored to share the stories of these leaders through its program, Family Philanthropy Speaks—a series of conversations designed to feature the innovative spirit of family philanthropy. These dynamic discussions aim to capture emerging trends and solutions, share new and diverse voices in the field, and lift up the role of family philanthropy—past, present, and future—in stewarding social change. We hope you will join us to explore what it means to give with intention!

Watch more Family Philanthropy Speaks conversations here.


Nick Tedesco: Welcome to the Family Philanthropy Speaks video blog series from the National Center for Family Philanthropy. These videos highlight the innovative spirit of family giving. Today, I’m joined by CC Gardner Gleser. CC is a board member of the Andrus Family Fund and is on staff at the Satterberg Foundation, where she’s the director of program and strategic initiatives. CC, thank you so much for joining us.

CC Gardner Gleser: Thank you so much for having me, Nick.

Nick Tedesco: Well, it’s our pleasure. I’d love to start with your path. You hold a number of roles in Family Philanthropy, really curious about what led you to this sector and to these roles in particular.

CC Gardner Gleser: Yeah, thanks for asking that, because it’s always good to go back and reflect on, “How did I get into this field?” I think it started, I did a couple of volunteering things. I’m on grant committees in the Seattle area, through Social Venture Partners, as well as Women’s Funding Alliance. I would be in these spaces and then I finally, it was the same thing over and over, where folks were making decisions about communities that they weren’t from, or didn’t have a connection to.

You know, when the decisions were being made, maybe based on a white paper they read or an article in a magazine or a newspaper. Just from my own experiences of growing up in the city of Seattle and spending time in homeless shelters with my family as a kid. Knowing how the public school system navigates kids in shelters, be it changing the school buses to make sure you could stay at the same school and not have to move around and different things like that.

It was like I had this lived experience and that wasn’t represented at the table, but articles were. So, really getting into these conversations around, “Well, no, but I read in this, that this is actually what homeless families need or homeless kids.” I was like, “I’m a real person and I’m sitting here and I’m telling you from experience, not from an article written by folks that also didn’t live it.”

I just kind of made the decision to intentionally go into philanthropy and to search for a place where I could fully show up and bring my whole self. All of the crazy experiences I’ve had growing up and kind of make a difference and actually use some of those experiences to inform the work that I do. There’s no other place that I could do that other than philanthropy.

Nick Tedesco: It’s extraordinary. I’m curious, you were the first person of color employed at the Satterberg Foundation. So, as that change agent coming in, we’d love to hear about how you were received and what the process was like for the foundation to start to reflect on its positioning and its desire to grow into a commitment of equity.

CC Gardner Gleser: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, I think, coming in, everyone made sure, the board, as well as the staff, were like, “We just want to be clear, we are a white organization and you will be the first person of color. We just want to be clear that we’re going to have some learning to do around this.” I kind of went in eyes wide open. As a black woman from Seattle, I’ve spent a lot of time in spaces that are full of white people. I mean, kindergarten. Just restaurants, whatever. I’m kind of used to that, but I think with the mission of Satterberg Foundation, being to promote a just society and sustainable environment, coming in with my experience as a black person in the world, that meant something to me that maybe it didn’t mean to the organization as a whole.

For me, I’m thinking, “We are doing this work to return resources to community. We’re going to acknowledge that race is the number one indicator of life outcomes around this country, because of how this country was built.” Just being clear around, “We don’t get here without the attempted genocide of indigenous folks and free labor on the backs of black bodies.” I’m wanting to be clear, like, “The wealth that’s been amassed, the creation of the country, how we show up in this space starts there.”

I think that was kind of eye opening for the organization as a whole, because it’s like, “We believe in social justice, we want to do the right thing”, but it’s got to go beyond that. Are we looking at, are we funding organizations led by people of color? Led by black and indigenous folks? How are we hiring?” Because there’s three folks there when I got there, all white and then me being the first person of color, but then, every subsequent hire we made after that has been a person of color. So, I think it has been something where we’ve all had to learn together and it’s continuous.

I think sometimes, there’s some fatigue around, “Oh, wait, I thought we’d talked about DEI on that board meeting in October, but I see it on the agenda again.” I’m like, “Hi, I’m still here and I don’t get to take a day off. So, this is my life, so if we have to learn about it maybe a couple of times a year, that’s going to be our commitment. To learn about it in a safe space where you’re not actually having to live it.” We need to make it so it’s always this abstract theme, where we get to talk about it, about the history of the country. But, then also not recognizing or owning the role that maybe we currently play in upholding the white supremacy or a white delusion that’s kind of particularly in philanthropy. We have to talk about it.

Nick Tedesco: We do indeed. Speaking of talking about it, you’re in boardrooms, whether it’s Andrus, whether it’s Satterberg, I’m curious what that learning looks like. You mentioned it can’t just be done in one board meeting a year, it’s an ongoing process. It’s a process that lives at the governance level and the operational level. So, can you share a little bit of your reflection around when learning and a rhythm of learning works and when it doesn’t? What are some of the practical steps that families can take to start to realize a different culture and a commitment to equity and justice?

CC Gardner Gleser: Yeah, I believe it has to be just integrated into what we do. It can’t always just be a separate agenda item and it can’t be something like with Andrus or with Satterberg, where board members come to the board meeting and say, “Oh, this is the place where I do my diversity and inclusion work.” Then you leave and then you just go back into the world, into your community and your networks. You’re not bringing any of it out with you.

So, how do we really weave it in and take this opportunity to learn? Because we’re in the space of learning, not for the sake of learning, but literally, “Do you believe in the things that we’re learning about? The things that we’re talking about, are we changing hearts and minds outside of this board room or this Zoom Room? Are you going to then maybe have some challenging conversations with your family, with your friends and then change communities that way?” We have to scale how we’re changing and it can’t just be like, “This is the diversity thing I do.” It has to be who we are and really start to show up.

Lots of folks are making the list around what we believe and, for foundations, if we make that list, we have to really show up and be accountable to what it is we said we believe. Because I think some folks are like, “Well, I’m on this board for this. I didn’t join this board to do social justice. I joined this board to spend time with my family.” I was like, “Okay, and what is our mission?” This thing, right? We have to be honest about what it is we’re doing. If we decide we don’t want to do that, then maybe, I think, some organizations will have to start changing their mission, because we have to do it for real, or not at all.

Nick Tedesco: Are you seeing a different perspective from the emerging generations in these families that is challenging some of the status quo?

CC Gardner Gleser: Yes. Oh, my gosh, definitely. Because I think they’re arriving to this in a different way. The world has looked different when they were kids, versus when some of us were kids, or even an older generation. There’s some kids now that have never known a world without computers or cell phones or those kinds of things. I even talked to my own kids about it and they’re like, “I’ve only known the world with social media and that’s where I get all of my information.”

So, I think the next generation that’s coming and joining the foundations and are part of the board are really changing the conversation. Because the way that I’m seeing, again, I think about my kids and how my mom told me to do something and I just did it whether I wanted to or not and I didn’t ask questions, but these kids ask questions now. These young people ask questions.

I can’t just say, “This is just how we’ve done it.” No, they’re like, “Well, why? That’s dumb.” To see these conversations in the board room amongst family members, and I think even my being a community member on the board of Andrus. I’m not a member of the family, so seeing the family kind of grapple with these things, where I’m like, “Dang, we’re really just going to talk about this?” We have to answer every, I can’t just say, “Because I said so.” Or, “From all of my years of experience and wisdom, this is what I know.” But, we have to be accountable and we have to start answering to the younger folks, because we don’t get to just get by on, “This is what we do. This is what we said and it’s always been this way.”

I think, in philanthropy, with a lot of younger folks coming into the field and more people with lived experience. When we look at grant application processes of having an application, a site visit an LOI.–all of those things and now that people are taking a pause and saying, “Why do we have that? Why don’t you just give unrestricted multi-year funding?” It’s like, “Well, because we’ve always done it.” “You just don’t understand, you don’t get it. You don’t get it.” Or, “Why can’t we increase our spend?” It’s like, “No, we have to spend at 5%.” Then, when people start to ask why, you’re like, “I don’t actually know. It’s just what we’ve done.”

So, now that I think we have an opportunity to reflect and be in conversations with the next generation of folks and learn from them. I mean, I am just learning so much, just around, “Oh, I should ask more questions. I have critical thinking skills. I need to use it.” Then, I think there are also times when, sometimes, folks just need to live a little bit longer and learn as well. It has to be reciprocal.

Nick Tedesco: It’s a time for intentionality. We talk about how this is a unique moment, where there’s a dialogue happening, perhaps for the first time, around challenging the default position of a lot of families’ actions, right? To your point, the next gen, in a lot of instances, are the ones that are challenging that position and that’s extraordinary. So, speaking of family, you recently spoke at an NCFP event about wealth origin stories and ways that system structures and labor contribute to building wealth. I was really moved by the story that you shared about your connection to Satterberg. I was curious if you’d be open to sharing that with our community here?

CC Gardner Gleser: Yeah, yeah, definitely. It is something new that I’m kind of trying on. I didn’t know this prior to coming to Satterberg and then, somehow, I’ve figured it out. I used to work at Kenworth Trucking Company, which parent company is PACCAR. That’s where the Satterberg Foundation wealth comes from. My father also worked at Kenworth Trucking Company, he worked there for 24 years. Sometimes, when we’re in new spaces and people say, “Oh, what’s a fun fact?” I would always just share it, “Oh, I used to build trucks at the company where this wealth is built on.”

I’ve shared that with someone else in kind of a throw away comment. The person said, “Wait. Pause. Now, can you say that again? You literally built the family’s wealth?” They started asking, “How long were you there? What did you do? What did your job look like?” I had never really got how. I mean, it’s more than a coincidence. I can’t even describe the feeling of thinking about my time there between 1994 and 1996. I worked there right out of high school and I was a fiberglass specialist and a material handler. I was a certified forklift operator and I carried materials around the plant. I sanded trucks and moved them forward before they were painted. I mean, just was on the plant floor.

Then, after I had this conversation with the friend of mine, I called my father and I was like, “Daddy, can we just talk about what your experience was like there? Because I was a kid and I wasn’t really asking you how work was or anything like that.” We had never had that conversation and he just shared, “I was there at 24 years. I was laid off, because it goes by seniority and I was 54 and I had to find a job. What does a 54-year-old black man do without a college degree? I tried truck driving and then I couldn’t access retirement, because I was too young.”

Then, he ended up getting a job at Boeing and worked there an additional five years. Then, by then, he could get his retirement. He said, “At that time, Kenworth was offering early payouts to retirement. I said, “Well, did you take the payout, because you know it’s less money?” He said, “Yeah.” He’s like, “I’m a black man. I’m not going to live forever. Give me my money now.” But, it was just through that whole conversation, it was like, “This is bigger.” How often, within philanthropy, within a family foundation do you have someone there that is on staff that has literally, if we think about, “What was the family doing between 1994 and 1996 while I was sanding a truck, right?”

That continued to build the wealth, and I was laid off. So, my dad was just sharing, whenever the profits dropped, folks on the floor were laid off. Rarely did people change that were upstairs, that were not on the plant floor. It just gave, I think, new meaning for me in this work. It was very powerful and I had never thought about any of the jobs that I’ve had, how we’re essentially building wealth for real people, real families. This isn’t in the past, this is still current, you know?

Nick Tedesco: Linking it to your point around then, how are those families making decisions to put that wealth back into community? Or, are they even putting that wealth back into community? It must feel a little bit surreal for you to be then directing those dollars back into community and in some ways, very validating.

CC Gardner Gleser: Yes, yes. It’s very validating, very powerful. I mean, when do we get to do this? To just be in the room and have a say, I think, in the facilitation of the return of resources, but this just kicks it up to another level. I can literally think about, if I’ve made $100,000 grant, how many hours, how many shifts that I work, to sand that truck, to contribute toward these dollars that are being put out in community?

Nick Tedesco: CC, I’d love for us to explore the benefits of philanthropic families inviting in community board members. Can you share a little bit about your perspective on the issue?

CC Gardner Gleser: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. I think it’s been wonderful to be able to be one of the first community board members on the Andrus Family Fund. I think, with them, they made this decision probably years ago, where they started exploring it about 10 years ago. Then, I think I’ve been on board now about four years. I’m also the first community board member to be the chair of the board, which is new, as of, I think, the fall of 2020. Which is very interesting, but I think when we have organizations and foundations that really believe in social justice, we have to look at, “What would it be like to explore inviting non-family members onto the board?”

A lot of times, there is hesitation. It’s scary hesitation, because I think that makes people have to reflect and actually look inward, around, “Wait. I have to acknowledge some things. How am I upholding this system? Why is it that I’m not ready to even let alone shift power, but I’m not ready to share power?” I think it is like a strong hold of, “This is a family foundation and it started to keep family together and family engaged. We can’t bring on community board members, because that goes against why we started this.”

Then, I think you get into the conversations around, “Well, will a community board member take someone else’s place? Take the family member’s place? What if we have family members that apply that can’t get on, because there’s too many community board members?” It really is fear and this idea of sharing power and shifting power. “What do I actually have to give up to really walk in this light.” I mean, it’s a real test. Like, “Do I really believe in social justice or just in theory? But, when I actually have an opportunity to make a shift myself and play a role in it, I’m really not ready.”

I think that that’s the scary thing, because we’ve had many conversations around it. I mean, even at Andrus, as we’re going through the nominations process now, it is, “Well, how many community board members? What is this going to look like?” We’ve had a really hard conversation, I think, with other family foundations as well, when the number one thing is, “Is someone going to take my spot?”

To me, I kind of liken it to the whole college admissions argument around affirmative action. “It’s too many people of color.” Or, why is it that when people have that argument against that or, “Someone took my spot.” It’s not the thousand white students that got in, potentially with scores lower than yours, but it’s the two black folks or two Latinx folks that got in. It’s one of them that took your spot, but none of the white folks that took your spot. We have to stop holding it in that way.

Community board members, family members. “If community board members are on, they’re taking an opportunity from me.” But, when community board members, to even go through the kind of grilling application process, to have had all of this, not just the lived experience isn’t enough, but we have to have all of the professional experience as well, that we’re bringing into the space. The bar, it sometimes is a little bit higher. We have to be the exceptional person out here in the field, as a person of color, I think, to even get on staff on foundations and philanthropy. Then, even a higher bar, to get to the board level when there is an opportunity for community board members.

Then, I think family can get kind of defensive when we go deep in conversation. I’m like, “So, what are the hurdles you have to jump, to participate in your family giving in the way that the structure set up, beyond being born?” I think it’s like, “Well, no, we’re very accomplished in our own way. We have things to bring.” “No, you definitely do have things to bring and you have all of your own accomplishments, but you didn’t have to do those things to participate within your family organization. I mean, it’s great that you did those things, but you’d be here no matter what.”

For community board members, everything we have to push through to even get to this space, to even be willing to put ourselves out there and apply, regardless of what happens. I mean, I think it can only add to, if we really believed in lived experience, what do we have to lose by having a couple of spaces for non-family members?

Nick Tedesco: Well, I’m curious about the process itself. You mentioned Andrus and the application process. How have the families that you partner with source community board members? What do you think works in that process, or what might you do differently?

CC Gardner Gleser: Yeah, I think casting a wide net, being clear about what it is you want. Like, “Is it really necessary to have folks with philanthropy experience?” Because, now that more and more opportunities are opening up for non-family board members, I mean, because I work in philanthropy and there’s a lot of other folks that work in philanthropy that then get these opportunities. But, then I think there’s also a piece there that’s upholding this system and still fooling us, or trying to tell us that philanthropy skills are a real thing, so maybe this isn’t a fit for you if you don’t have a background in philanthropy.

It’s like, “Well, what is philanthropy? The love of people.” We’re returning resources to community. It is something that many of us, if we’ve ever all chipped in to pay a cousin’s tuition or help them buy textbooks, or send one of our nephews to camp or something, we’ve all done grant making. It’s not that hard, let’s stop fooling ourselves. I think the part that I would love to see changed is that, take the opportunity to have community board members that maybe don’t have a background in traditional philanthropy.

Maybe they are the folks a part of organizing. Maybe they’re organizing organizations. They’re doing policy, they’re doing advocacy. They’re more close to the community of those directly impacted and then themselves are directly impacted. Whereas, for me, I’ve been directly impacted as a kid. For my first 20 years of life, or even a little bit longer, but I’ve been in philanthropy now, officially, for five years. I still had to have that philanthropy experience and they’re still gate keeping in philanthropy, so folks that should be in there and should be at the table aren’t there.

If we really want to make a shift and invite community, non-family members to the table, how do we get those folks that are really at the nonprofits in community, doing the work and let go of this idea that, “Well, if we have community members, they have to have a background in philanthropy as well.” Because philanthropy, it’s not rocket science. I know people would get upset if I make it sound like it’s not a really hard thing to do, but it’s not. It’s people.

Nick Tedesco: I agree with you and I think that the idea of casting a wide net is so critically important, because families need to move beyond their comfort zone and their own networks. I often remark that there’s a significant difference between independent board members and community board members, right? The independent board member can be the family attorney, right? The business partner. They’re not really bringing that much of a different perspective, right? So, go beyond your comfort zone, use recruiting firms, use professionals that can help you go out and source the right independent and community board members for the family.

CC Gardner Gleser: Yes.

Nick Tedesco: So, as we’ve been talking about equity, I think we will all acknowledge here that, equity at the center is an effective practice for philanthropy. But, for you, as you are the director of programs and strategic initiatives at Satterberg, I’d be curious to hear a little bit more about what you think are other effective practices of grant making, of philanthropy. What do you see that’s really critically important for families to embrace to be effective in their practice?

CC Gardner Gleser: Yes. I would love, love to see families embrace. I mean, wholeheartedly, embrace the idea that community is the experts. Multi-year, unrestricted grant making should not be a really cool thing. I mean, there should be something that’s just like a baseline. That’s what we should just all be doing. Give them the funds so that they can do what it is they need to do. We have to stop pretending that we have all of the answers, because we don’t. The community does. Then, how do we amplify the voices of community?

I think that’s the equity piece. The other equity piece, I think, is, within philanthropy, how are we all talking to each other about the work that we’re doing and sharing the learning that we’re doing with some of our nonprofit partners? So, we have to come together more. I think the other piece that, oh my gosh, comes up all the time and it’s going to always be a conversation, but come on. I mean, the 5%? The minimum 5%? We got to do better.

The thing that I’m learning, working in philanthropy, because I didn’t grow up with money or access to these things. There’s just an abundance of resources. The thing that I’m learning is that, in the worst year that we’ve had for people since I’ve been an adult, with the pandemic, with COVID and the racial uprisings, I still have family members that have not been able to go back to work, that have not received stimulus checks. Small business owners I know that couldn’t even complete the paperwork to get PPP loans. Lots of small businesses dying over the course of the last 18 months or so, but at the same time, the stock market has made so much money. Money has made so much money, and it hasn’t had to do anything but sit there.

We have to stop wanting to just hoard all of the wealth and all of the dollars. I know folks’ money exist in perpetuity, but really, what is perpetuity? We can still, even if we just increased it to 10%, that money is just making so much money. Think about why we’re here. That’s the equity piece. Because I think the perpetuity piece is, “Oh no, we have to be here to continue to give this money out, because we’re the right ones to give the money out. But, we don’t actually know all the things. We don’t have all of the information, if we’re not in community with folks.” That’s where the dollars need to be, but that increased spend always starts a lot of, there’s a lot of contention when we have those conversations with foundations.

Nick Tedesco: I know we’re coming up at time. I wanted to ask you one last question around the future of philanthropy and family philanthropy. You’ve shared a lot of what you hope are going to be the shifts in practices, but is there one last call to action, something that you hope that family philanthropy will embrace, as we look to the future?

CC Gardner Gleser: I think, be ready to let go and share power and shift power. Think about, what does it require for you to come into this space and do this work of family philanthropy? Was there anything you had to give up to walk into the room? How do we make sure that everyone has to give up something, to really do this work? It’s going to be uncomfortable and challenging, but I think it’s also very rewarding. I would love for us to move to a space, for funders to actually think about, like, “We’re the ones that it is an honor, or it is our pleasure to return these resources.”

Stop having the nonprofits have to jump through all of the hoops. So, when will we get to a place where we’re actually jumping through the hoops and we’re pitching ourselves, like, “Here’s the work that we’ve done and that we’re working on and who we’re accountable to. Would you please partner with us and allow us to send you this check?” So, when we can get there so that we’re out of the charity mindset, that everybody needs us and we’re going to save everyone. None of this happens without us.

Where, actually, philanthropy doesn’t exist if there is no place to put the funds and to return these resources. So, we also just need to let go of thinking that it’s ours, because we worked hard, or our grandfather worked hard, or many of our grandfathers worked hard. We don’t all have this kind of wealth.

Nick Tedesco: Well, CC has been such a pleasure. I can’t thank you enough for your time and your insights. I feel more comfortable, I’m sure as many do, with you at the table with many of these families, making the decisions to put wealth back into community. So, thank you for your commitment and thank you for your time and experience. Look forward to staying in touch.

CC Gardner Gleser: Thank you so much, Nick. Thank you for having me and just for the opportunity to chat about this.