Facilitating a conversation with intentionality while simultaneously maintaining space for the conversations to flow productively is no easy task. In the past, I have led conversations with donors, colleagues, boards, committees, friends, and family. Sometimes the dynamic of the conversation flowed naturally and allowed for easy participation, challenging and building upon participants’ thoughts and ideas. At other times, it was difficult to maintain the structure and flow, inhibiting us from reaching our collective goal. I often pondered why in some scenarios, it was easy, and in others, it was not.

After sharing my desire to be a masterful facilitator with Debra Jacobs, CEO of The Patterson Foundation (TPF), I was encouraged to participate in the facilitation training provided by Exponent Philanthropy. Without hesitation, I jumped at the opportunity to be immersed in this unique space as I understood that those joining the Exponent Philanthropy training would be particularly eager to improve their skills as most work in small-staffed enterprises where facilitation skills are vital.

When I arrived to my first virtual class, I joined a cohort of foundation professionals spanning North America. In our breakout sessions, we discovered we shared similar interests in areas where we sought to make improvements. It was especially helpful to make these connections and grow a network of colleagues. Sharing our vulnerabilities in how we communicate, holding a conversation among a group of participants, and receiving critique was significantly helpful in improving our style, approach, and overall comfort level. I was fortunate to be joined by Eliza Fisher at The Rita Allen Foundation and Lorrie Fair Allen of the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project in a facilitator simulation where we each had an opportunity to play a role as facilitator or participant. Practicing with these two stellar facilitators was immensely helpful in my own growth!

Through both the learnings and practices, many of us discovered that facilitating happens at the intersection of art and science. The science of facilitation takes form in the planning and structure, while the art takes form in the implementation and performance. Letting both the art and science drive the implementation, it became easier to lean into the role with confidence.

One of the tools I found most helpful from the training was using the POP Model. This model is derived from three parts: Purpose, Outcomes, and Process. Understanding the purpose and intended outcomes drives the process. Before initiating any facilitation, addressing these three questions can help define the direction. For purpose: why are we undertaking this? For outcomes: what are the specific outcomes we want to accomplish as a result of this action? For process: what steps will we take to achieve these outcomes and fulfill the process?

By incorporating the POP model into the planning, the facilitator and the participants gain a clear sense of the purpose and outcomes of any intended action, helping instill in individuals, teams, and organizations an ongoing discipline of focusing on results rather than activity. Since time is a nonrenewable resource, tools like the POP model help our organizations function productively with focus and intentionality.

The skills and learnings from the training were not only helpful for my long-term career aspirations but were of particular value for a more immediate project on which I had the honor to collaborate. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County (CFSC) conducted an internal equity audit under the leadership of Ranata Reeder, Vice President, Knowledge and Equity, and Lisa Carter, Director of Organizational Capacity, to measure how the foundation incorporates equity into its overall structure. After all of the CFSC staff participated in the audit, prioritizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals became apparent as the next step in the process.

On the heels of my training with superb guidance from my TPF colleague Michael Corley—an expert facilitator—I felt well-equipped with the knowledge, practice, and tools to work with CFSC and facilitate a conversation with their leadership team to decide their top DEI priorities. With great planning and strategy, I led a fruitful discussion that captured the ideas of many while unearthing the foundation’s shared goals and aspirations, which moved leadership to confirm their top DEI priorities. To my relief, I received positive feedback, showing the value of the knowledge and skills gained through my extensive training and planning.

The entire experience ties back to TPF’s CLSES – connecting, learning, sharing, evolving, and strengthening. The outcome of the facilitation has strengthened the path forward and clarified goals across the organization. Now possibilities percolate for what may evolve—a result catalyzed by an invaluable experience born from a facilitated conversation. Onward!

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