BY Makiyah Moody, LaPiana Consulting

The Funders Network’s President and CEO Pat Smith sat down — virtually, of course — for  a conversation for the LaPiana Consulting blog, Black & Bold: Perspectives on Leadership. Black & Bold is “an effort to affirm, promote, and elevate the experiences of Black women who are their ancestors’ wildest dreams,” according to Makiyah Moody, senior consultant and lead writer for the blog. (TFN engaged with LaPiana as part of our strategic planning process.) Below is an excerpt from the Black & Bold blog post featuring Pat’s conversation with Makiyah. To read the full post, visit here. 

Tell me about your current role?

I am the president and CEO of The Funders Network (TFN), a membership organization of 170 funders from across the U.S. and Canada, including national, regional, and community foundations. I learned after joining TFN that we have a significant number of community foundations as members. As you know, we recently completed the refinement of our strategic direction and homed in on what TFN wants to be as it grows. (Disclosure: La Piana Consulting facilitated TFN’s strategic planning process.) We are a 20-year-old organization and excited about where we have landed.

As a philanthropy serving organization (PSO), the challenge for the sector and TFN is how do we begin to really develop the next generation – the next courageous generation of philanthropic leaders – equipped to bring about racial justice and a just society. As we go through this period, philanthropy cannot continue what it has been doing and expect different outcomes.  How can we be different as a sector? Doing work differently requires people coming together and figuring that out. I am seeing more and more calls for participatory grantmaking, meaningful community engagement, and not just tokenism: increased interactions with government and the private sector to find common ground; asking tough questions about the role of racism in our society, and to what extent philanthropy also perpetuates inequities. The idea of decolonizing wealth has led to many conversations. We need to bring others in to help figure out what needs to be done, creating space to learn, reflect and act.

If there was a soundtrack of greatest hits that reflect how you go about your work, what would make the list?

India Arie’s “Strength, Courage and Wisdom”:  These are crazy times. When I don’t have clarity about where I need to be, where the work needs to go, or how I need to do it, I play this song often.

Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted and Black”: I am excited by the younger voices coming to the fore in philanthropy. For me, TFN’s PLACES Fellowship exemplifies the next generation of philanthropic leadership and they inspire me.

I love jazz. One of my favorites is Miles Davis’ album, Kind of Blue, especially the track “All Blues.” Many think of only sadness when they hear the phrase I got the blues; I think of resilience, courage, and the history of our people…the expressive art about their struggles and strivings.

Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Ella’s Song”, which is a tribute to Ella Baker who is considered the mother of the Civil Rights Movement. She worked with MLK, John Lewis and without question she was the tactical organizer for SNCC, or Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. She understood movement-building, community organizing and the leadership role of peoples’ voice in their struggles.

I love the phrase: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” It is just as important today in this moment. It can be overwhelming at times. You may just want to throw in the towel or leave the country, yet we who believe in freedom cannot rest.

The other lyric that resonates with me is: “The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm.” This lyric reminds me of the Black Lives Matter movement, the protestors, and young people running against the storm. I believe in the vision and activism of young people. My role – philanthropy’s role – is how do we support them as they run? How do we relinquish the reins of power and support the next generation of leaders? 

Work in the social sector can be very personal and linked to one’s values.  Can you think of a time when your values were in tension and how you reconciled that tension or not?

I have held leadership positions in government with the City of Philadelphia, including leading a major mayoral initiative where I was often in community. For me it was often challenging to see all that needed to be done, knowing that government may not be able to resolve the problems despite my best efforts.

The tension comes into play when entering a church basement for a community meeting knowing that I might not have the answer or resources at my disposal and being honest about that fact. It’s not about simply saying no we can’t do this –too often we are too quick to say no.  Sometimes it’s about acknowledging constraints as a first step in the problem-solving process.

With Obama’s election, there were all these high expectations, which caused me to think about how to engage people with integrity and not mislead them. I am not a believer in false promises (“Hey, we can do that”). I aim to be clear and transparent about what I can and cannot do which requires honest conversations about limits and where those limits are. “These are the constraints. Here’s why. Maybe we can figure this out together.”

TFN President & CEO Pat Smith aboard the vintage sailboat, the Pearl, she shares with her partner.

Can you share an experience in the workplace where you have had to reclaim your time?  What was the context? How did you navigate it?

I am terrible at carving out space for me. I often allow work to bleed into the rest of my life and that has been a challenge. I’m a workaholic who is always thinking about what needs to be done next. That means that sometimes I’m not rooted in the present or enjoying the moment. This has been a lifelong struggle where I am trying to be more intentional about self-care.

Read the full Q&A blog post here.