Erica D. Hamilton

Principal, Arbor Brothers

How old is your organization? Arbor Brothers is approximately nine years old
What sector do you work in? Philanthropy. I have the privilege of being a grantmaker to nonprofit organizations that are changing lives in some of the most under-resourced communities.
How long have you been working in this sector? I have been working as a grantmaker for nearly four years both as a staff member and a Board Member.
How long have you been with your current organization? I have been a member of the Board of Arbor Brothers for about four years and have been on staff for about two years.

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
What has excited me most over the past 40 years has been the shift towards democratizing access to the information and resources necessary to enable entrepreneurs of any ilk, across the globe, to translate and launch their own vision into social enterprises.

Once upon a time, only the privileged few with access to the right networks and with a particular pedigree were able to raise the financial and social capital required to launch a nonprofit organization. However, the rise of technology and the increasing ubiquity of information has enabled a more diverse array of individuals to translate their unique and innovative ideas for driving social impact into living and breathing enterprises.

While we are far from a state of equity where all individuals with robust ideas have equitable access to the financial resources required to launch and sustain a nonprofit organization, over the last 40 years we have made immense progress in making this shift and the sector is well positioned to make even further gains in the years to come.

How has communication—with staff, clients, and/or donors—changed over the course of the last 40 years?
Stakeholders are increasingly demanding more real-time, candid, and engaging communication from the nonprofit organizations they are connected to. Gone are the days of stakeholders being satisfied with an annual report, the letter from the CEO, or quarterly board meeting PowerPoint update.

Staff, clients, and/or donors want to hear from executives who lead nonprofits often and not just big wins, but the near misses and utter fails that elicit new learnings and perspective. And, these messages need to be communicated in an attention-grabbing, graphic intensive format to keep pace with the speed of the information sharing market place that has risen up via the use of social media apps and websites.

In what ways have nonprofits adapted business practices that more similarly reflect for profits over the last four decades, and has that been a necessary shift?
Over the past four decades, I’ve been most excited to see nonprofits increasingly using differentiated strategies to generate revenue to supplement or replace donations. The sector’s increasing use of fee-for-service models and social impact bonds are just a few examples of how traditional for profit business models are being integrated and retrofitted to fuel the work of the public sector. This evolution has enabled nonprofits to be less dependent on the traditional flow of donations to determine the timing and ambition of their scaling and innovation plans.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing today that will impact your nonprofit and your sector in the future?
Nonprofits will need to increasingly develop an approach that enables less reliance on philanthropic grants to fund work in the public sector. It is becoming the norm to see organizations revise their program models and approach to their work to increase their ability to respond to RFPs and to apply for Pay for Success grants.

Increasingly, government agencies and private sector firms are structuring funding opportunities as fee-for-service engagements, challenging nonprofit organizations to learn how to operate as strategic partners and vendors. This means that, in addition to focusing on delivering bottom line impact to clients, leaders in this space must also strengthen their ability to operate even more efficiently and be more responsive to the needs of funders operating with this model.

What skills do you believe are necessary for people to succeed as managers over the next few decades?
The best managers are those that take the time to develop cross functional skills to expand their understanding of how the intersection of different functions within an organization can drive or hinder outcomes. For example, the individual that works on a program team who then transitions into a development role will typically prove far more compelling in telling the story of an organization’s mission and outcomes. Managers who demonstrate curiosity and a willingness to take on new roles in different functional areas are best equipped to train and lead their teams to operate nimbly and to forecast challenges before they manifest.

Where would you like to see your sector in 40 years?
I would love to see more women of color occupying senior leadership positions in the field of philanthropy. Women of color continue to be severely under represented in the field of philanthropy and are virtually invisible in the top roles in the field. Women of color typically lack access to the networks that are best connected to the field of philanthropy and are often unaware of opportunities in this field. In addition, women of color have often had a life journey that has been comprised of a range of professional and personal experiences that give them a unique and valuable perspective on the work of the nonprofit sector. This perspective is an asset that can assist the field to think more innovatively and to be even more informed in making funding decisions.

Why did you join this sector?
I joined this sector to live my passion—to create and expand opportunities that enable other people, especially those who often aren’t given a seat at the table, to realize their full potential at work, at home, and in life.

How do you hire?
I bring a lens of equity and a passion for diversity to any hiring process I am involved in. I hire first and foremost by defining success as achieving other goals beyond just closing a search. These goals include: proactively identifying and reaching out to qualified, diverse candidates who may not be aware of the opportunity, analyzing the candidate pipeline to ensure we are identifying and considering diverse candidates at all points in the process, and ensuring that each stage in the process includes interviewers who have demonstrated a clear commitment to integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion in their decision-making process. Lastly, I always work to ensure that the hiring manager and the new hire have a clear onboarding plan to enable the new hire to have the most successful start possible in his or her new role.

Name three qualities that are inherent in being a strong leader.
Courage to make hard decisions. Humility to admit when you don’t have the information or answers being demanded of you. And, resilience to pick yourself up and take just one more step when you believe you can’t go on.

Find out more
Arbor Brothers Website

En Español »