Reflections on changing nests after 23 years.
The first time I sat in the Brainerd Foundation's conference room it was to talk with Paul Brainerd about my possible participation in the foundation's upcoming board meeting. I have two distinct memories from that day. First, I was pregnant and uncertain about my ability to attend the board meeting, scheduled for just a few days before my due date. And second, I was excited about the possibility of working with a visionary foundation that was just getting started.
Sitting down with Paul could have been intimidating, but it wasn't. When I entered the office, I was drawn to the stunning black and white photographs covering the walls; some were of familiar sights, others of places I had only dreamed of visiting. As we talked at the foundation's massive wood conference room table, a wall-sized painting of a colorful fish playfully watched over us. It was the beginning of what would become a long and wonderful relationship with the foundation.
If generations are measured in quarter centuries, by the time we close our doors in 2020, we will have experienced a full generation of life and work and relationships.
This summer I sat in that same conference room for the final time. The building that had housed the foundation since 1995 was under construction and no longer a habitable space. And with our sunset looming, it was time to enter the next phase of our operations. Within a few weeks of moving out of that office, I watched my now-grown daughter move out of our home and head off for her senior year of college. Could it really have been more than two full decades since I sat in that office for the first time? If generations are measured in quarter centuries, by the time we close our doors in 2020, we will have experienced a full generation of life and work and relationships.
As I sat in the foundation's conference room one last time, I paused to reflect on some of the things that happened around that table. All of our foundation's strategies and investments were developed and debated around that table. Our trustees, advisors, partners, colleagues, and grantees spent countless hours there. But it wasn't just our foundation that hammered out ideas in that room. The founders of Social Venture Partners gathered late into the night around that table, determining their initial grant guidelines and funding priorities. It was where a passionate group of volunteers brought their creative ideas and mapped out a plan that would become IslandWood. And where tech-savvy activists figured out how to connect grassroots groups to the internet, launching what would become Groundwire.
As our move date neared, one of the final items on our checklist was to find a new home for the conference room table. This was no small challenge. It was fourteen feet of solid wood, weighing more than a ton. Just getting it out of the building was a daunting prospect. For more than two decades we had carefully placed coasters under every cup and glass to protect the gleaming surface from damage. And now, if we couldn't find someone with an office large enough to accommodate it, its future was in a wood chipper.
The challenge of finding a home for the table gave us a glimpse into the changing nature of the modern workplace. In Seattle's booming downtown, much of the office space has been claimed by Amazon, and much of what's left is being converted into hip new co-working spaces, with cold-brew and kombucha on tap and offices designed to appeal to my daughter's generation.
What really makes a desirable work space? Is it a private sanctuary where each worker can retreat? Or a place bustling with people and buzzing with energy?
When we first decided to move, we imagined ourselves somewhere similar to our old space: private offices for each staff member, preferably with a view. Once we started touring the available spaces, we found ourselves rethinking our assumptions. What really makes a desirable work space? Is it a private sanctuary where each worker can retreat? Or a place bustling with people and buzzing with energy? We decided that we wanted some of each, and we found it in Seattle's newest WeWork space just four blocks from our old office.
We frequently ask our grantees to help us understand how their work is changing, and how they are adapting to the evolving cultural, political and social environments in which they operate. Many of the changes we see are driven by technology, which is redefining how we engage with each other in our homes, workplaces and, society. Among the things we hear from grantees is the need for flexible office space, the importance of giving staff the ability to work remotely, and the cycles of work that periodically require more or fewer staff. These shifting norms are affecting how organizations plan, budget, and stay effective.
When we committed to our previous office, we could predict what we would need for the coming decade and a ten-year lease was an accepted norm. The explosion of co-working spaces, not just in Seattle but around the world, echoes what our grantees have been telling us -- that workplace flexibility is becoming a new norm.
In our new building we have our own private space to retreat to when we need peace and quiet, and we have community areas where we can interact with others when we are feeling social. When we venture out of our office to print a document or grab lunch, we bump into people who are doing work that is very different from ours, pursuing ideas and solving problems that we never knew existed. It's invigorating.
In the final weeks before our move, we were able to find new homes for nearly everything we no longer needed. It felt a little bit like being an organ donor. Our chairs and small furniture went to an organization that provides support for babies born into poverty. Our easels and flip charts went to an artists' collective. Our file cabinets and office supplies are at a non-profit that helps incarcerated people prepare to re-enter society. And on the very last possible day, we found a home for the massive conference room table. It's at a small start-up in south Seattle, providing a surface for some young entrepreneurs to sketch out their ideas and launch the next big solution to something that just might change the world.
Our next two years will be fueled by cold brew and kombucha, and focused on the future. As we prepare to pass the baton, we are doubling down on our efforts to support the next generation of conservation leaders, donors, and organizations. We're eager to see what ideas are generated around the many different tables in our new home. Stay tuned!
The Brainerd Foundation's new home can be found at 1411 Fourth Avenue, Suite 1000, in Seattle, Washington (98101).