Leading Through Transition: Moving with Purpose, On Purpose, Towards Purpose

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Dear Colleagues:

Prior to working in philanthropy, I was an organizational development consultant and leadership coach at CompassPoint, where I supported leaders, teams, and organizations from across the social justice sector. Among other things, I coached organizations through strategic shifts, major programmatic change initiatives, and executive transitions. So, when I stepped into this role last November, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about getting ready for this opportunity. GCIR had hired an amazing organizational transition consultant (who happened to also be my long-time leadership coach), I was in an ongoing peer coaching circle (seven years and counting) with other senior leaders, and my wonderful family (Ephraim and Beatrice) and friends had my back. My network was—and continues to be—supportive, committed to my growth, and cheering me on. I felt prepared for this new adventure.
 
And yet, executive transitions are inherently hard, especially ones that follow a founder. As the organization changes, there are oftentimes ingrained organizational habits to address and pivot from, as well as systems and practices to be updated, evolved, or put away. Even when you think you know what challenges and opportunities lie ahead, uncovered challenges surface and new issues emerge. Most organizational change efforts fail because attention is focused solely on the external event—the founder retirement, the merger, or the program ending. What is often ignored or downplayed is how to lead people through transition. Getting people through transition is essential if the change is actually going to work.
 
So, to lead and support this amazing GCIR team through the transition, I leaned into what I knew: people and purpose first, build power with others next. In the early months of my tenure, I prioritized:

  • Defining and clarifying our near-term purpose horizon and reframing our work as a philanthropic mobilizing organization 
  • Building the team forward, nurturing authentic relationships, growing the team back to (almost full) capacity, practicing distributed leadership, and investing in the team’s sustainability and learning
  • Creating and sharing power with the staff, the board, and GCIR’s partners—   
    • In our programming, following the lead of those closest to the work and elevating organizations, strategies, and communities historically excluded from philanthropic conversations
    • In our grantmaking, like in the CA Dignity for Families Fund, practicing trust-based philanthropy; leveraging the power of strategic agility, inclusive learning, and deep collaboration; and aiming to distribute funds rapidly and equitably, with the ultimate goal of strengthening movement infrastructure over the longer term
    • In our communications, amplifying the stories, strategies, and expertise of movement leaders with the aim of mobilizing more resources for immigrant and refugee communities

I share these reflections because we must pay close attention to what our teams, networks, and communities will need as we head into 2022. Change and transition will continue unabated, and our leaders, our organizations, and our movements will require spaciousness, capacity, and resources to leverage opportunities, position themselves well for strategic impact, anticipate challenges, and move with agility. GCIR will contribute to creating these conditions for success and transformation by, among other things:

  • Engaging in an expansive and inclusive strategy formation process to develop an affirmative long-term vision reflecting our evolution as a national philanthropic mobilizing organization that shapes strategic opportunities to move money and power to immigrant and refugee communities
  • Convening movement leaders, funders, government actors, and other stakeholders at GCIR’s 2022 convening in HoustonPower | Promise | Transformation—where we will build on the foundation laid in our 2021 programming theme of power building; leverage local, state, and national opportunities to rebuild systems of protection and confront white nationalist backlash; and strategize on how to address threats to historically marginalized communities while working across movements to achieve transformative change
  • Continuing to move with purpose, on purpose, and towards purpose—we will plow the work that is not aligned with GCIR’s future strategic direction; sow the seeds for emerging strategies (e.g., decolonizing migration, narrative change); grow the work we launched in 2021 (e.g., amplifying movement leaders’ voices, solidarity grantmaking); and harvest the work cultivated this past year (e.g., sharing the learnings and impact from the CA Dignity for Families Fund)

Transition starts with an ending and finishes with a beginning.

As the first year of my transition into this role comes to an end, I look forward to what the beginning might bring—for me, for the GCIR team, for movement leaders and organizations, and for our shared work. Being centered and ready for change—a winning paradox, so to speak—is the stance with which I welcome the new year. Until then, wishing you a restful and joyful close to 2021.
 
Warmly,
Marissa

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