Frankly, our sector is often pathetic when it come to leadership development. Trustees think this is all about training for staff—and often chief executives think spending money on themselves is selfish. We need to get a grip on this. I was fascinated by an article I was sent by a colleague which had an extract from an article by Ira Hirschfield of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Foundation based in San Francisco. I reproduce extracts here:
"Less than 1 percent. That’s the portion of overall foundation giving that went to leadership development between 1992 and 2011.
Foundations ask a great deal of the organizations we support—to strengthen community, meet urgent needs for services, solve complex environmental problems, influence public policy, and build and sustain movements for change. In short, we hope grantees will deliver transformational results for the people and places they serve. So it’s striking how seldom we back that up with funds to help organizations develop and strengthen the ability of their leaders to meet those high expectations.
People are not born with everything it takes to manage and motivate a team, build coalitions, and lead change—and are certainly not born knowing how to be good board members. These are skills that current and future leaders develop as they are doing actual work. Leaders who have the opportunity to reflect on their strategies and hone their skills make better choices, develop innovative solutions and forge stronger collaborations.
This is what leadership development is about—and to the extent that foundations decide it is important and fund it, then we and our grantees will be better positioned to achieve our goals for impact.
The private sector allocates billions of dollars to leadership development because they know that skilled leaders are a powerful investment. In light of the social sector’s relatively small investment, I think it’s worth asking whether we are capitalizing leadership effectively.
At the Haas, Jr. Fund, we view investment in leadership as a core strategy to accelerate our foundation’s impact. An important question we ask ourselves is: What kind of leadership is needed at the individual, organizational, or network level to achieve our program priorities, and how can we invest in that?
For example, to advance the foundation’s goal of establishing gay marriage rights, we allocate substantial funding specifically to strengthening the leadership capacity of individuals and organizations central to the movement. We also partner with the Arcus Foundation and Gil Foundation to bring more diversity to the LBGT movement, supporting an initiative to help talented people of color advance into senior leadership roles—the Pipeline Project.
Given limited grantmaking resources and competing priorities, it’s reasonable to probe the added value of investing in leadership. Evaluation is one way to address this; for example, we did a formal evaluation of our Flexible Leadership Awards that showed how the program boosted impact.
It’s also important to hear what grantee leaders themselves have to say to funders on the matter. Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, explains: “It’s like adding protein powder to your other grants. If you want your other grants to be successful—if you want your grantees to do the best job in meeting their deliverables and moving the ball forward in their movements—you have to invest in leadership development.”
I hope their reflections will inspire more of us to explore what lies behind philanthropy’s chronic underinvestment in leadership and see new possibilities. Investing in leadership doesn’t just deliver higher performance; it can also deliver a better, more equitable world."
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