Knowledge and Learning

The private sector invests billions in sustained and focused leadership development. Within the nonprofit sector, these kinds of investments are often seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. As a result, nonprofit leadership is comparatively undeveloped. The Haas, Jr. Fund is committed to sharing our learnings as we invest in developing nonprofit leaders. Our goal is to broaden understanding among foundations and nonprofits about how leadership development support can strengthen organizations and about the most effective types of leadership investment. 

“Leadership development for nonprofits is still a relatively new field,” notes Linda Wood, senior director for leadership and grantmaking with the Fund. “By advancing the conversation on this topic, we can increase the chances that philanthropy is making smart investments that generate stronger nonprofit leadership with better results for the issues we care about.”

The Haas, Jr. Fund is interested in supporting organizations and programs that inspire new thinking and action related to developing nonprofit leaders, particularly within the Fund’s program areas of interest. The following are some of the key questions we seek to answer as we move forward with this work. Included is a sampling of articles concerning our efforts to advance the conversation about nonprofit leadership development.

What is leadership development … and why should funders invest in it?
The Haas, Jr. Fund is working to expand philanthropy’s understanding of and support for leadership development within nonprofits. With support from the Fund and others, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) has produced numerous case studies and guides for grantmakers about leadership development topics. GEO is also organizing learning groups, conference sessions and other activities to explore relevant issues. Read the foreward to GEO's Investing in Leadership: Volume 2, by Vice President of Programs at the Fund Sylvia Yee 

What is executive coaching … and how and when is it an effective strategy for leadership development?
The Haas, Jr. Fund has become a leading supporter of coaching for nonprofit leaders.  In addition to providing coaching support for grantees, we have partnered with the Coaching and Philanthropy Project to produce Action Guides and an online toolkit to help advance the field’s understanding of coaching as a strategy for building effective nonprofits. We have also created a series of short videos that provide firsthand accounts about the value and impact of coaching, and how it works best. Additionally, Coaching Practices and Prospects is an independent evaluation of the coaching component of the Flexible Leadership Awards (FLA) program.

What are the special needs of next-generation leaders?
In partnership with GEO, the Building Movement Project, CompassPoint, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and others, the Haas, Jr. Fund has supported an in-depth look at the needs and characteristics of new leaders who are called upon to carry the torch for social change. Changing demographics are creating a particularly urgent need for the nonprofit sector to develop and support leaders of color and leaders from immigrant communities. Read Supporting Next-Generation Leadership: An Action Guide and Up Next: Generation Change and the Leadership of Nonprofit Organizations to learn more.

What are the governance challenges of small and mid-sized nonprofit boards … and how can funders help?
The Haas, Jr. Fund also has become a strong supporter of efforts to help foundations and nonprofits explore strategies for creating stronger nonprofit boards. Among the activities we have funded on this topic are: the BoardSource/Foundation Strategy Group study, Advancing Good Governance: How Grantmakers Invest in the Governance of Nonprofit Organizations; and a study by The Urban Institute on board governance challenges of small to mid-size nonprofits, a cohort that is often overlooked in recent research.

How can funders support successful executive director transitions?
The Haas, Jr. Fund has long been interested in what it takes to ensure effective executive transitions in the nonprofit sector. Ten years ago, the Fund seeded efforts to build this important practice area. We teamed up with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, CompassPoint and others to develop an array of resources addressing transitions and succession planning. Through our Flexible Leadership Awards Program, we often support organizations in the midst of transitions, providing exiting and incoming leaders with the tools and resources they need to keep their organizations on a path to success. Read Capturing the Power of Leadership Change, Building Leaderful Organizations, or Managing Executive Transitions to learn more.

How can nonprofits do strategic planning faster and better? 
Strategic planning processes in the nonprofit sector typically require a 9 to 12 month commitment, making it difficult for organizations to respond to emerging opportunities, especially during dynamic and uncertain times. The Haas, Jr. Fund has supported a pilot effort to develop quicker, less costly, more effective alternatives to traditional strategic planning by adapting the most useful and innovative business practices from the private sector. Read Convergence: How Five Trends Will Shape the Social Sector to learn more.

How do we support and sustain seasoned leaders? 
Seasoned leaders are an invaluable asset to the nonprofit sector, providing a wealth of knowledge, savvy and contacts as organizations strive to meet new and recurring challenges. The Haas, Jr. Fund has supported efforts aimed at helping grantmakers and others understand how to reap the benefits of what seasoned leaders have to offer, and how to help ensure that they remain a vital source of good ideas and inspiration. Read  Creative Disruption or The Departing to learn more.

What are the leadership needs of social change movements? 
The Haas, Jr. Fund is not only interested in the leadership support needs of organizations; we also want to know how best to support key leaders in the movements that are the focus of our grantmaking. For example, we recently worked in collaboration with the Movement Advancement Project to produce a groundbreaking report, Building LGBT Nonprofit Leadership Talent. The report argues that intentional and consistent efforts to support, nurture and grow LGBT leadership should become integral to the day-to-day work of movement organizations. The report goes on to offer specific recommendations about staff recruitment and development, deployment, retention and more.

The Fund has appreciated its partnerships with grantees and others with whom we share what what we’re learning about cultivating nonprofit leadership. We promise to continue seeking opportunities to advance the conversation on these topics.

Leadership development for nonprofits is still a relatively new field. By advancing the conversation on this topic, we can increase the chances that philanthropy is making smart investments that generate stronger nonprofit leadership with better results for the issues we care about.
- Linda Wood
  Director of Leadership and Grantmaking