Leadership Breakfast: Tené Traylor

United Way. The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. The Kendeda Fund. It’s an impressive resume. To break down her accomplishments and storied career in Atlanta philanthropy, we hosted Tené Traylor, currently a Fund Advisor with the Kendeda Fund, for a Leadership Breakfast on Monday, December 12.

Tené is a native Atlantan. Her parents, full of big dreams for their children, moved to Atlanta from Birmingham and settled in Southwest Atlanta. Even though Tené ended up taking a different path than much of her family, she credits her parents’ commitment to education and political awareness with much of her motivation to make a difference and engage in community building work.

She completed her undergraduate degree at Georgia State. Studying and working in the heart of Atlanta, coupled with studies in political science and African American studies, set Tené on a path that landed her at the United Way. Active in youth development programs throughout college, Tené originally started at the United Way as a part time job in college, not originally realized how close the organization’s goals were to her own. She spent six years at United Way, where she learned a lot about philanthropy in Atlanta, in addition to gaining wisdom from your elders, whether they were the CEO or the administrative assistant.

Big dreams, a desire to connect to more modern technology and strategy, and a lack of patience propelled her away from United Way into the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. There she learned the great importance of understanding history and nuance of a community and the power structure you are working within. 

Problems like poverty are so deeply rooted; no matter how innovative your idea, you’re not solving problems like that overnight.

She also reminded the audience of the importance of relationships. Never overstated, relationships can provide critical insight into your own career and the problems you are trying to help solve.

For some reason, people want to go into neighborhoods without understanding the people; people want to work with children without understanding their families.

She reminded the audience that you may not always be the best advocate for your own idea, so make sure you’re always gaining traction for the projects you want to tackle. Ask people what you should know.

When the conversation turned to equity and racial discrimination, Tené agreed that philanthropy has continued to perpetuate inequity and inequality. She noted that philanthropy was designed as a way for extremely wealthy white families to throw money at a nonprofit to solve a social challenge. Because there is no inherent incentive for family foundations in particular to hire people who don’t look anything like them, who come from a totally different community, to manage their social investments, the diversification of philanthropy is not going to happen overnight, and it won’t happen without people speaking up.