Why I Became a Lipman Fellow & What I’ve Learned from the Program

Photo: (l to r) Katie Suarez, Lipman Fellow 19, Erik Lampmann and Lisa Moon, President & CEO, The Global FoodBanking Network, from Welcome Honoree Lunch; March 21, 2019

by Erik Lampmann, Penn Law, ’20, Lipman Fellow ’19

I came to the Lipman Fellowship wide-eyed and a bit apprehensive.

After several years working in the non-profit sector running programs dependent on grant funding for support, I was uniquely aware of the power philanthropies wielded in the social sector. At the time, I wasn’t sure whether and how I wanted to be involved in the world of major giving––and I had no idea what I’d find when I peeked behind the veil of a grant-making program.

What I found, both embedded within the Lipman Fellowship Program and embodied in my peers was surprising––and humbling.

Right away, I was surprised to find myself identifying similarities between the work I did as a program manager receiving grant support and my role as a Lipman Fellow helping to provide support to others. Discerning and building upon organizational missions, articulating the value of an organization’s intervention, and brainstorming logical partnerships cut across these roles. On a personal level, reflections such as these helped me understand in a new and important way the dynamic relationships––and in many respects the alignment of purpose––which exists among many grant makers and recipients.

I was also heartened to find that the other Fellows, like me, took seriously their responsibility not only to Prize applicants but to the beneficiaries those organizations served. As a collective, we set out to do right by both of these sets of stakeholders––and never lost sight of that goal.

My Lipman Fellowship also gave me the chance to step back and think about the macro-level changes I wanted to affect in philanthropy through my career.

While I knew from my time in the sector that social justice groups are systematically underfunded, I never had the chance to think strategically about what changes these types of organizations can put in place to more effectively monitor the outcomes of their advocacy, public education, and community organizing projects.

My Lipman Fellowship experience did just that by giving me the chance to study impact measurement with leading practitioners, like the team at Penn’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy, and to put those best practices to immediate good use on behalf of the organization I presented to the Lipman Prize Committee this spring. Now, I find myself taking the Fellowship experience one step further by studying alternative evaluation models designed specifically for the social justice community and thinking often about how I might assist organizations I worked with in the past to improve their impact measurement while advocating for grant criteria reflective of these unique organizational needs.

While I’m not sure where my career as an attorney will take me, I feel more certain than ever that I want to remain actively engaged with philanthropic organizations and that the skills I learned through my Lipman experience will allow me to add tangible value to whatever social sector projects I encounter.

Six months later, I’ve looked behind the veil of the grant-making process, seen the rigor with which philanthropic professionals evaluate proposals and the intentionality with which they make recommendations to organizations experiencing new and exciting growth––and I know that this is a space I won’t stray far from in the years to come.