In this edition of Five Questions, we chat with Sean Thomas-Breitfield, NEO Philanthropy Board Member and co-director of the Building Movement Project in NY.
1. What is the most challenging, and rewarding, part about being involved in the social justice philanthropic sector?
I started working in the social justice sector right around 9/11. Today, these are also very challenging times for our movements and organizations. Given the political climate, economic inequality and the impacts of pollution and climate change, the scale of what we’re up against can overwhelm. Obviously, we want to achieve progressive change, but right now it feels like we have to also value — and find the reward in — just holding the line.
2. Three-parter: What about your NEO board work is most gratifying? What is one thing you did not expect to experience being on the board? And why did you want to join the board in the first place?
It’s rewarding to hear about the great work that NEO’s fiscally sponsored projects are taking on, and how the collaborative funds are investing in movements and grassroots strategies that help our communities. I think it’s hard to understand the scale of the work that NEO takes on and support. There is a lean but mighty central staff supporting so many change makers and orgs across the country, and our reach really is impressive. My interest in joining the board was to support the fiscally sponsored projects because I think that NEO provides a critical back-office support function that helps bolster many movements that I believe in.
3. What advice would you give to others considering similar leadership positions?
Board leadership is an important responsibility to take on, so try to figure out both what the organization needs from and what it asks from its board members. Those may not always be the same thing.
4. Who has been the most influential role model/hero in your life so far?
This is a hard one because I’ve never been very motivated by stories about the typical movement heroes. I find the work between teams of leaders fascinating. Even if I think of my own upbringing, my parents were a team but there were also godparents, aunties and uncles, and fictive kin who influenced and shaped me by the way they supported and relied on each other.
5. When not fulfilling your board of directors obligations, what are some of your favorite things to do?
I love my work at the Building Movement Project. The research, documentation, facilitation and convening that we do to support — and push — nonprofits to be more equitable and focused on progressive social change always keeps my job fresh. I also love spending down time (when we can find it) with my husband, David, and our French bulldog, Alma.