The study and practice of leadership has been on my mind for the past several months. Since July, I’ve been fortunate to participate in the Career Pathways Program through the Council on Foundations.

It’s a leadership program that has been designed to prepare candidates to compete for and earn positions as philanthropic leaders. The program is open to people currently employed in foundations and grantmaking institutions who are seeking to advance their careers in philanthropy. Two groups have already graduated from this intensive program, which includes in-person meetings, executive coaching and studying.

This year, I’ve been joined by:

  • Brandee Butler, program manager for Europe, Middle East, and Africa at Levi Strauss Foundation.
  • Satonya Fair, director of grants management at The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Angela Frusciante, knowledge development officer at the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund.
  • Lisette Islas, director of community organizing at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation.
  • Jin-Wook (Jay) Kim, director of community funds and racial equity at the Saint Paul Foundation and Minnesota Philanthropy Partners (MPP).
  • Dee Dee Nguyen, senior philanthropic advisor for the Marin Community Foundation..
  • Maggie Osborn, vice president for the Florida Philanthropic Network.
  • Lita Pardi, senior program officer for The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.
  • Christopher Nanni, vice president of program for the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County.
  • Leslie Ito, program officer for the California Community Foundation.

Since July, we’ve met at foundations around the country to have in-depth conversations with peers, foundation executives, search firm executives and others about the philanthropy sector. As with almost every leadership development course, we are blessed with a large amount of reading material to prepare for our in-person sessions. It’s all good–but some of it is just too good not to share with you. I’m happy to pass a few key pieces along.

The jury is in and experts agree that systems thinking is a top criteria for leadership. Here’s a link to the Waters Foundation Habits of Systems Thinkers. In our session, we used a case study to implement particular habits and challenged each other to use less-used elements to think differently about an issue.

Leaders draw on a deep reservoir of authenticity to make difficult decisions every day. I particularly enjoyed this talk by Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D., Feeling Like a Fraud: Part Two. The article discusses the tension between authenticity and the lack of fit between what one feels and what is said about one’s virtues or competence or is expected in public speaking.

Public speaking is part of the job. Here’s a great and entertaining presentation on how to amp up how people see you. Power Poses.

We all know that the numbers matter. Social Venture Partners Boulder County has put together an excellent basic resource guide in understanding financial statements (first link in the list).

Last, Storytelling is an essential skill for sharing our mission and vision. We read Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact, by Annette Simmons. Coincidentally, the power of story will also be the topic of the upcoming The Foraker Group Leadership Summit so this could be your sneak peek.

It’s taken investment and energy of a dedicated group of people to bring Pathways to life. Pathways is part of the Council on Foundation’s Diversity and Inclusive Practices program and is made possible through the generous support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The California Wellness Foundation, the Weingart Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Thank you to Renee Branch, Ericka Plater Turner, Barbara Ceptus, Barbara Bruno and all the COF staff. Stellar facilitation and consulting support has been provided by Marta Siberio and Elizabeth Myrick.

We’re not done yet! The Pathways team will be in Chicago in early spring for one last session – a colloquium to share our talents with the field and commencement to celebrate our journey, just in time for the COF Annual Conference. It promises to be an enlightening and challenging few days.

Aleesha Towns-Bain, program officer at the Rasmuson Foundation. This post originally appeared on the Rasmuson Foundation’s blog

Comment Form

Welcome to RE: Philanthropy! In this blog, guest and Council bloggers share ideas and insights on the most pressing issues in philanthropy. If you want to contribute, please contact

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Foundations.


Diane Miller
Jordan Marshall
Bryan Del Rosario
Sidney Hargro
Victoria Dunning
Joop Rubens
Mary Phillips
Courtney Kaezyk
John Padilla
Flozell Daniels Jr.
Allison Sole
Nancy Berglass
Angelle Fouther
Brenda Chumley
Candace Winkler
Hillary Nather-Detisch
Heather Lord
Jennifer Leonard
Frank Alvarez
Mena Amin
Christine Kendall
Laura McKnight
Michael L. Batchelor
Craig Muska
Dawn Plimmer
Patrick Gaston
Omar Passons
Meghan Duffy
Holly Welch Stubbing
Lisa Philp
Marilyn LeFeber
Nicole Lewis
Carol Goss
Daniel Lee
Lois Salisbury
Bo Miller
Johanna Van Dyke
Susan Swan Smith
Barbara Dyer
Debra Mesch
Jeff Yost
Vikki Porter
David Biemesderfer
Kendace Hall
M. Jeff Hamond
Rotary International
James Head
Antony Bugg-Levine
Sara Kruger