How did your career journey lead you to Geneva Global?
My journey was entirely serendipitous. I set out from college wanting to do meaningful work in international relations. At that time, I was really focused on human rights—and particularly the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. I started out by volunteering to tutor people who were preparing for their U.S. citizenship exam. I then worked at several nonprofits in the Boston area focusing on women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health. I thought I wanted to do program work, but realized that my writing skills and eye for a well-placed centerpiece were more effective in grant writing and events. By working on fundraising and donor relations teams, I learned just how important strong relationships between donors and grantees are—that there is joy in giving and purpose in implementing when there is partnership.
Those skills have served me well as my current work bridges the intersections of partnership building and communications for social impact.
How has your role at Geneva Global evolved?
It has changed quite a bit. I joined Geneva Global more than seven years ago and focused on a portfolio of work in the Middle East. In fact, on my first full day of work I flew to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia! I learned a lot about philanthropy in that region. In the following few years, I took on additional client work and ultimately started to lead our team’s largest client engagement.
In 2018, I stepped into a senior leadership role and joined our Executive Team. I have seen the company’s evolution as well—through leadership changes and our recent merger with Global Impact.
Most recently, I had the tremendous opportunity to join one of our longtime foundation clients in an interim staff role. It sounds cliché, but serving in this role has given me a new perspective on so many aspects of philanthropy—from the challenges of grantmaking when there are so many incredible programs to the profound respect I have for grantee partners who have pivoted and contorted themselves to continue delivering important programming during this difficult time.
What fulfills you most about your role?
The people. I have fantastic colleagues. They are smart, generous, flexible, and always have the perfect GIF to share.
How has the philanthropy landscape changed over the last few years?
So much has happened in the past decade with the rise of donor-advised funds, the growth of online giving, and the emergence of collaboratives. Geneva Global was an early catalyst of big collaboratives through its incubation of the END Fund. We’ve since seen the exponential expansion of giving through these vehicles through organizations like Co-Impact and Blue Meridian—and I suspect that will be a continued trend.
That said, 2020 has created more change in the sector. With the pandemic we’ve seen the importance of direct cash transfers through initiatives like GiveDirectly’s US COVID-19 response as well as the return to local grantmaking to some of the tried and true organizations like the United Way as demonstrated by MacKenzie Scott’s end-of-year giving. Beyond the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd was a gruesome reminder of systemic racism and a call to action around racial justice in the US. Philanthropic institutions are responding by addressing board leadership, hiring practices, and grantmaking, but it is only the beginning.
What are you most excited about for the future of philanthropy?
My colleague, Moira Cahill, noted the emergence and importance of trust-based philanthropy and participatory grantmaking. Our Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion book club read Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Wealth, which sparked internal discussions—and I’m eager to see Geneva Global and other philanthropy advisory firms take action to deepen our knowledge and integrate our learning into how we explore the dynamics of wealth, power, and inequity with our clients.
In addition, I’ve spent the past year diving into philanthropy’s role in addressing gender inequality. I’m excited about the discussions that are happening around the intersections of gender, racial, and climate justice. There is so much momentum by many philanthropists to transform philanthropy by taking an intersectional lens to look at everything from leadership to grantmaking.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in philanthropy?
Philanthropy is such a niche sector and yet there are so many paths to take within it. I work with clients and colleagues who have every kind of background—from studying historic preservation to Arabic literature. There are subject experts who maybe come from private sector or nonprofit experience who then shift into philanthropy, like my colleagues Josh Muskin and Fanta Toure-Puri.
If you’re particularly interested in consulting, I’d offer that it’s important to explore what being a consultant means to you. Geneva Global takes an accompaniment approach where we work side-by-side with clients and are often implementing projects alongside or on behalf of our clients. Years ago I was introduced to Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni and I’m also a fan of Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. Both talk about vulnerability, which I find to be so important in showing up for our clients and having honest conversations.
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently catching up on back issues of The Sun and Orion magazines. My bedside stack captures my feelings on the year. Stacked on top of each other are: Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times and the wonderful Allie Brosh’s new Solutions and Other Problems. Also, one of my favorite things is to visit independent stores, so if you’re checking out these links, please support your local booksellers!
Where do you get your news?
I honestly miss coming into the office and saying “Did you hear that story on NPR on your drive in?” And, 9 times out of 10 it was a StoryCorps tear-jerker. I subscribe to my local newspapers: The Swarthmorean and The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Atlantic’s coverage of the pandemic has helped minimize my doomscrolling.
How has your work-from-home journey been? Any tips or tricks?
This journey has certainly had its moments. I really enjoy working from home, but I miss seeing my teammates in person. When I have a fantastic conversation with a client or a discouraging setback on a deliverable, it’s hard to not share those moments. Setting up a Zoom call isn’t the same as sidling up to someone’s desk. As a result, my dog hears a lot, but those conversations are one-sided and generally end with him getting a treat.
For more information about Alison, and to meet the rest of our team, please click here.