Every October for the past 2 years I have traveled to New York to have a session with members of my support group. This group is the Connecting Leaders Fellows, a program hosted by the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE). I was selected as a Fellow in 2006--in fact, that's how I met Trista. The introductory activity for each class of Fellows is a week-long leadership summit in NYC; activities include panel sessions with Foundation leaders about current issues in philanthropy and professional development strategies from career coaches. But to me, the most important activity of the week is the meeting the potential members of a support group consisting of folks with similar perspectives and challenges as we work in this field. Each year ABFE selects a new class and invites the past fellows to participate in the final days of the summit. So last week I expanded my support group to include the new class. I also re-connected with past Fellows who are already members of this group.
I consider my support group different from my network. My network includes professionals both inside and outside of philanthropy: former grad school classmates, consultants whom I've met over the years, and leaders of non-profits where I volunteered. But my support group consists of folks with whom I share a particular bond because they are all current or past professionals in philanthropy. I can call on them at anytime for a listening ear, a word of encouragement or help in plotting my next move. Indeed, they are friends--but even a little more than that because they also share my professional experience. Not all of the members of my support group are ABFE Fellows, but in truth they make up a large contingent.
I think everyone needs a support group, particularly those of us working in philanthropy. This can be a wild, wacky, frustrating field and it's easier to commiserate with those who know it first-hand. My support group did it's job, and now I feel invigorated and re-energized as I continue to work on making my mark in philanthropy.