A Lesson on Managing Risk


Philanthropy411, in partnership with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Raymond Colmenar, Senior Program Officer at The California Endowment.

by:  Raymond Colmenar

I just heard a most inspiring speech by Crystal Hayling, former president of Blue Shield of California Foundation and James A. Joseph lecturer at The Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE). It was an inspiring speech about lessons that many of us funders often learn but always seem to forget. She reflected on five lessons–but I’ll focus on just one, a lesson on managing risk. Crystal challenged us to invert the notion of risk. Instead of asking whether an applicant or proposal is risky, she challenged us to ask the question about whether we as program officers or foundations are taking sufficient risk in light of the change we want to seek. She reminded us that what is now popular was not always so. She spoke of civil rights activists like her father who took personal risks–going against the grain not just of society’s norms, but of what peers, family, and community thought was wise and what was expected of him.

She challenged us to go beyond what was comfortable. To search our souls and find the courage to step up and step out-to push ourselves to do what might not be popular, but what might right. She said there were moments in her career as a grantmaker when she recommend approaches or grants that despite thorough due diligence still made her a little scared. Is it doable? Is it going to work?  Is it going to really matter in significant ways for communities we are about?  It was important for her to go beyond efforts that have not done enough.  She considered these leadership moments–moments that are often too rare.

Thanks Crystal for reminding me, reminding us, of what leadership is about.

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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