Almost 20 years ago, I accepted my first job in philanthropy. Right before I started, a mentor of mine asked, “Brenda, who do you think you will be accountable to when you start your new program officer job?”

“My new boss,” I said immediately.

“No,” he said, “Try again.”

“The board of the foundation?” I asked.

He nodded no.

“Well why don’t you tell me,” I said.

“The community, and the resources you are responsible for deploying to the community,” he answered.

His response has stuck with me as a guiding force as I have moved through the world of philanthropy.

Throughout my career in philanthropy, I have seen many trends, initiatives, and programs that have gone by the wayside because of a lack of leadership or institutional will, or because the original concept was flawed and the scope of work didn’t provide an opportunity to shift or pivot. These challenges certainly are real reasons why projects never get off the ground, but there is often a subtle underlying theme at play when projects aren’t successful. Time and again, I’ve seen projects fail because community is not informing or leading the direction of the work.

When I was a fledgling program officer, only a handful of people in my sphere of influence were talking about the impact of community voice in our sector’s work, or how foundations should ultimately be accountable to the communities we serve. I’m glad to see that this paradigm is shifting, and that the Center for Effective Philanthropy reminded us all in Minneapolis last month that our work starts and ends with community.

Read the full article about putting communities in the driver's seat by Brenda Solorzano at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.