100 Days in Office

By Leah Wilberding


Hi, I'm Leah Wilberding. Yep, Will-burr-ding, emphasis on the 'ding'. My (new-ish) last name is just the right amount of ridiculous and never fails to bring a smile to my face. 

What is the Peer Relationship Manager role?

I joined the team roughly 100 days ago as the Peery Foundation's first Peer Relationship Manager. This new role is our best attempt to fulfill a need that our grantees have expressed consistently through Funder Feedback surveys and regular check-ins: access to funders and insights into our peers' funding strategies. 

Okay... But why a whole new role?

As our grant portfolios have grown over the years, the team has prioritized supporting organizations in line with our grantee-centric practices, which often takes more time to provide.  As our team capacity has been stretched thinner, relationship building with funders or facilitating connections for grantees to other funders has slowly fallen lower on our priority list, and has simply become more complex as both grantee and peer funder relationships are spread across several team members. Ultimately, we knew we could be a better partner to our peers and grantees by dedicating more resources and one full-time employee to focus on this quandary. 

What brought you to the Peery Foundation?

I started my career as a fundraiser and spent a decade working for nonprofits in the Bay Area - as a one-woman show, a member of a 20+ high-functioning development team, and everything in between. As a fundraiser, I applied to hundreds (thousands?) of grants, pitched to countless donors, convinced my board to NOT host another event, got lost in spreadsheets with all the tabs, etc. I created impact metrics to suit a funder's peculiarities, outsmarted online grant portals, and learned how to mine LinkedIn for relational data that might secure funding and build out my organization's pipeline. I learned so much from my nonprofit colleagues along the way - how to build strong relationships, how to craft a compelling story, how to make restricted dollars flow through an organization. I loved the work. And it was infuriating. 

After a decade, I felt there had to be a better way for me to raise funds for good work. I didn't know exactly what it should be but I started by exploring other roles in the world of philanthropy. I spent the next two years at Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) as an advisor to philanthropic families and institutions where I learned, questioned and learned some more. (Have a question about donor-advised funds, let me know!) I learned about the Peery Foundation at an SVCF event focused on the Unicorns Unite movement. After participating in the workshop, I knew I'd found an organization and an ethos I could believe in. I applied for this job that very night.

Anything notable from your first 100 days?

There are funders that I had hoped to meet when I had a fundraiser's title. I built strategies around how I might get an introduction or meeting and, to be frank, many of them were inaccessible. Now, in this role, I'm getting replies... and they're timely. I share this not to call out my peer funders but to highlight the very real power dynamic that exists between funder and grantee. And, as a funder, I've sent delayed responses to grantees as I've prioritized a project, overflowing inbox... or struggled with the best way to articulate why funding wasn't possible. Because even when someone goes into philanthropy with the express purpose of doing it differently and being 'better' - I too fell short of my own ideals. In this new role, I hold these experiences top of mind and have a little green stress-ball at my desk with a helpful reminder - “Make it Happen” - to practice philanthropy with self-awareness and a sense of urgency.

What's next?

I’m looking forward to expanding the PF’s community of peer funders. We hope to learn from them, collaborate with our colleagues, and advocate for the great work of the grantees we serve. I'm hopeful that we will find better ways to partner together, and to be more mindful of the resources we request and the people we depend on to make a difference. After all, we're in this work together. 

If you have some ideas for me in this new role, share them in the comments or email me directly!