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Foundation fellows learn the ropes

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John Francis, Shinika McKiever, Leah Hambright

John Francis, Shinika McKiever, Leah Hambright

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — John Francis was surprised to find how many hurdles nonprofits must clear to secure support.

Shinika McKiever had not realized how many nonprofits engage in “grant-chasing,” or shaping their grant applications to meet foundations’ funding priorities.

And Leah Hambright discovered how big a commitment beyond financial investment nonprofits must make to launch new evidence-based programs.

The trio, employed by three big North Carolina foundations that offer fellowships for recent college graduates, say their jobs have opened their eyes to the realities of the nonprofit world, and opened doors to nonprofit resources and connections.

“I have been exposed to so many things I traditionally would not be exposed to,” says McKiever, program associate and fellow at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem.

Allen Smart, director of the trust’s health-care division, says the fellowships benefit the fellows and the foundations, all of which are getting ready to hire their next class of fellows.

“We bring in some younger energy, some people who are relatively new or completely new to the field and have different types of insight, different skills sets we don’t have on staff,” he says. “And we’re trying to give younger people a window to get engaged for what might be a great professional life.”

And in the recession, which has left even fewer job openings in a philanthropic marketplace traditionally tough for young people to enter, the fellowships offer a rare opportunity for emerging leaders and foundations alike to connect and benefit from one another, Smart says.

Leslie Winner, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem agrees there is a great mutual benefit from the fellowships.

The fellowships provide “a rare opportunity for somebody early in their career to be exposed to the breadth of issues facing the state and the important role of the nonprofit sector in addressing those issues.”

And the fellows are “integral to our being able to get our work done,” she says. “They provide us with fresh energy and perspective, but they also end up just being important thought partners, researchers and team members in every way.”

With each foundation offering several fellowships, the fellows function as staff and also network with one another and other emerging foundation leaders in the state.

Consider Francis: A native of Pilot Mountain near Winston-Salem, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2006 with an undergraduate degree in psychology, then spent one year in Boston as an AmeriCorps member working for CityYear and two more years on the nonprofit’s staff.

The 18th fellow to work at the Reynolds Foundation, which hires a new fellow every other year to work for two years, Francis is part of the foundation’s program staff, traveling with program officers to visit grant applicants, and reading and making recommendations on applications.

Rotating through the foundation’s program areas — education; democracy and civic engagement; environment; social justice and equity; and community economic development – has exposed him to important issues facing the state, he says.

He says he hopes after his fellowship ends in 2011 to pursue a master’s degree in public administration or public policy, with new insight into the workings of the nonprofit world.

“It never had dawned on me the complex nature of the issues between funder-investor and grantee,” he says.

Hambright, a Maryland native who has undergraduate and master’s degrees in social work from N.C. State University in Raleigh and the University of South Carolina, respectively, is completing a two-year fellowship at The Duke Endowment in Charlotte.

Rotating through the endowment’s four program areas – child care, health care, rural churches and higher education – she makes site visits, consults with grantees, conducts research, handles special projects and is working on a “capstone” research project assigned to each fellow.

Hambright, whose project focuses on The Incredible Years, a South Carolina program that works with parents, teachers and children and focuses on kids ages two to 12, says she hopes to find a job researching or implementing programs for a technical-assistance provider, preferably a nonprofit.

A key to implementing programs like The Incredible Years, she says, “lies in leadership of the nonprofits to be able to deal with technical and adaptive problems that come along.”

McKiever, a native of Liberty in Randolph County with an undergraduate degree in political science from UNC-Greensboro and a master’s degree in public administration from N.C. Central University in Durham, is completing a two-year fellowship at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

As a grad student, she says, her goal was to eventually become a city manager.

But as the employee at the trust who fields and screens phone calls for the program officers, she says she has learned a lot about working with a broad range of organizations and the issues they face, and now hopes to find a job in philanthropy.

“Working in philanthropy,” she says, “opened a new world for me.”

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