Since its launch in 2005, The Duke Endowment’s Fellowship program has been an opportunity for outstanding individuals to spend two years immersed in philanthropy. The goal is to give Fellows exposure to the philanthropic landscape and develop their leadership skills, while contributing to the Endowment and its mission.
Our Fellows have been talented and committed, and they’ve gone on to do amazing work in their chosen fields. Through their final Capstone projects, one Fellow designed a tool to evaluate job training programs for youth aging out of foster care. Another studied how impact investing could advance the Endowment’s mission. One created a summer literacy program for rural churches that’s still improving reading skills for scores of children each summer.
Our 13th Fellow, Brittany Schwartz, joined us this summer. Before she leaves in 2020, Brittany will spend time supporting our work in higher education, health care, rural churches and child care. We’re thrilled to have her on staff and will strive to offer her a rewarding learning experience.
In the past, we’ve begun recruiting our next Fellow in the fall and winter. This year, however, we’re putting those efforts on pause.
In the spirit of continuous improvement that’s so important to our work at the Endowment, we recently conducted an evaluation of our Fellowship program to assess its impact on participants and on our foundation. With our Evaluation team leading the process, we surveyed our staff members along with all current and past Fellows. We also conducted deeper interviews with a subset of Fellows and staff.
Just as we hoped, the evaluation helped us learn about the program’s strengths and challenges and uncover recommended changes. For example, all of the Fellows said they “strongly agreed” that the Fellowship broadened their understanding of philanthropy, and nearly half of staff members mentioned the value of the Fellows’ fresh perspectives. However, 60 percent of Fellows said they struggled at times to find enough meaningful work. We also learned how critical it was to hone the purpose of the program to help clarify expectations.
We will use what we learned to fine-tune the Fellowship and make it as effective as possible for the future. Instead of hiring a Fellow for 2019-21, we want to spend time thinking strategically about how we can adapt the program’s structure to everyone’s benefit. Over the coming months, a cross-section of employees will work together to support that effort. We plan to present our recommendations to our Board by next summer.
At the Endowment, we’ve embraced learning and evaluation as a way to sharpen how we serve and work. Just as our founder did when he established his foundation in 1924, we strive to use the Endowment’s resources where they have the greatest impact and outcomes. In that spirit, we’re looking forward to the next steps in making this successful program even better.
Jeri F. Krentz
Associate Director of Communications and Fellowship Supervisor