Seven Takeaways From My Internship in Philanthropy


In the first week of my summer internship at Hirsch Philanthropy Partners, a colleague asked, “What problem do you want to solve and at what level?” I have always known that my purpose is to help people, but I had not considered the type of work that I would find most compelling. This conversation set the tone for my internship as I began learning about the many layers of equitable grantmaking on issues like racial justice, human rights, climate change and democracy.

Prior to my internship at Hirsch, I knew more about nonprofits than philanthropy and philanthropic advising. It has been an eye-opening and enriching experience to understand the complexity involved with grantmaking to meet community needs. As my internship comes to an end, I have been reflecting on my experience and I want to share seven takeaways about philanthropy for those new to the sector.

  1. Grants are not enough to solve social issues—partnerships are critical. Meaningful, lasting change requires partnership and collaboration between funders, communities, nonprofits, and the public sector. Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to fund innovative ideas that can scale to more communities through the public and nonprofit sectors.

  2. It is special to work with like-minded, passionate people. I can see myself working at an organization like Hirsch that reflects my values and purpose. In a historically white male dominated field, I felt empowered to work for a woman-led firm where over 50% of the team identify as people of color. It has also been inspiring to learn about the firm’s journey and ongoing commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

  3. Listen to local leaders and be advocates for community-centered solutions. The first step towards effectively serving community is listening to their needs and valuing their perspective and solutions. I learned about the principles of an approach called trust-based philanthropy, which reframes the power dynamics between funders and community organizations as partners in creating lasting impact.

  4. Private philanthropy is responsive and flexible. Philanthropists and foundations can move funds quickly into spaces that are often underfunded or overlooked by the public sector. For example, as COVID-19 had an immediate impact on communities—especially communities of color—philanthropy was able to respond rapidly to meet urgent, emerging needs.

  5. Rest is essential for nonprofit leaders. I had the opportunity to work with O2 Initiatives, which funds a sabbatical award program for Bay Area nonprofit executive directors. Nonprofit leaders often suffer from burnout and sabbaticals provide essential opportunities for them to rest and recharge. Sabbaticals also create opportunities for future nonprofit leaders to step up, building more resilient organizations and communities.

  6. Asking challenging questions is necessary to disrupt systemic inequities. Building a culture that asks challenging questions is critical when applying an intersectional lens in philanthropy. While working with the Hellman Foundation’s Fair Opportunity for Youth Development team, I learned about implementing a trust-based, grantee-centric approach that differs from traditional approaches. This framework is a valuable way to think creatively and develop more effective programs.

  7. Philanthropy is relational; invest in interpersonal connections. Philanthropy is effective only when it is built on strong relationships, often developed over many years. The issues philanthropists aim to address are complex and by having a solidified network, strategic solutions can be achieved.


During my internship, I learned that philanthropy is much more than the distribution of wealth to worthy causes. It is about having compassion and creating opportunities to listen and understand what a community needs. It is about working alongside the public sector to uplift inspiring leaders who are advocating for the wellbeing of their communities. When practiced authentically, philanthropy brings people together who genuinely care about each other and our collective future. At its heart, I now understand why philanthropy means “love of humanity.”