For those of you who have been following our 40 Grants in 40 Weeks project, you may have noticed that once the camera is rolling, I have no idea what to do with my hands. Seriously, they are either waving (seemingly uncontrollably) to make a point or shoved in my pockets. Somehow I manage to get through the day off-camera without worrying about my hands at all, yet once a camera is in front of me I transform into something straight out of a Fosse musical.
I was thinking about this while watching the most recent video surprise (congratulations Glove House!), and it struck me that I faced a similar challenge ten years ago when I became a grantmaker. Rather than wondering what to do with my hands, I wondered what to do with my opinions. Should I make sure to disclose my personal feelings at every turn (seemingly uncontrollably) or should I bury them as to never allow the tiniest amount of perceived bias invade my work?
We all bring ourselves – our political views, upbringing, preferences and aversions – to our work in some way. Chances are that an organist has a favorite hymn, or that a basketball coach completes a March Madness bracket. But what to do when your work is to invest millions of dollars, money that belongs to the community, into programs and projects that will make this a better place to live for everyone?
The answer is to bring other people – with different political views, upbringings, preferences, and aversions – into the room. I could never make 500 grants each year alone, since I can never fully know the nuanced and changing needs of our community. But twenty volunteers, splitting into smaller groups and taking time to really dive into ten or twelve grants, can.
Instead of hiding our feelings while reviewing grants, we share them. If necessary, we defend them. When faced with new information, we can even change our opinions.
Over the years, I have watched people express and then set aside their personal preference to support a grant because it is what is right for a neighborhood they may never visit. Better yet, I have watched people start to visit neighborhoods they otherwise avoided because they learned they had the wrong idea in the first place.
One of the best things about our work is that is changes us. All those feelings I worried would impact my professional judgment haven’t gone away, though some have shifted. With an ever-changing group of passionate volunteers surrounding me, how could I stay the same? Why would I want to?
But back to the real problem of the day: my hands. Are they, like our grant panelists, simply taking stock of the moment and either speaking up or quietly listening? Giving away surprise grants is exciting; perhaps these grand gestures are more appropriate than I first realized. Maybe I should really go for it, but is the world ready for Community Foundation jazz hands? Stay tuned…