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Council on Foundations Latest To Redesign Staff Functions

By Mark Hrywna - December 17, 2012

Aiming to be more relevant to its 1,700 members, the Council on Foundations (CoF) announced a redesign that eliminates 19 positions.

The Arlington, Va.-based association of grantmaking foundations hired Vikki Spruill, formerly the CEO of Ocean Conservancy, as president and CEO in July. “The board brought me on for a mandate for change. The traditional membership association/trade model is in need of change itself, so I think the things happening at the Council are not unique to us but happening in the sector more broadly,” Spruill said in an interview with The NonProfit Times.

The CoF is the latest national organization to reorganize, coming just weeks after United Way Worldwide (UWW) eliminated 60 positions while adding 58, shifted dozens of positions to boost staff in global offices. The Alexandria, Va.-based UWW offered new positions to 36 employees whose posts were eliminated — 35 of whom accepted — while 24 were left without jobs.

In an email to members last week titled “A New Vision for the Council,” Spruill laid out CoF’s new direction, promising more details about the new structure and strategic plan in the new year. “We want the Council to offer the greatest value to our members by providing you with and connecting you to the leadership and tools you need to advance the common good. This means place our greatest asset — the diversity, depth and breadth of our members — at the core of our business,” Spruill said in the 565-word email.

“To deliver on our commitment to serve the sector in the most strategic way possible, we have eliminated several positions that don’t fully support our new model and will create new positions that do,” she said.

The council will add 10 to 12 positions during the next four to 12 months that will be more in line with the new model, according to Spruill. The council currently has about 47 staff and will be closer to 60 once the new model is in place, she said.

The new positions, said Spruill, are harder to describe and more iterative, but in the member-stewardship model, the council will be looking for people who are “externally focused and who would be excited about having portfolios of members that they get to know and mine.” She likened it to a small liberal arts college model, thinking about institutional advancement and “high relationship-high touch staff who would be accountable to some portion of membership, innovative and working ideas through those members.”

Despite decreased revenues and operating deficits in recent years, Spruill said the redesign was not financially motivated. CoF had total revenues of about $17 million in 2010, with almost $7 million from membership dues, compared with more than $20 million in 2008, of which $11.5 million was derived from dues.

The new model organizes the council by type of foundation and puts forward a much more networked, hub kind of model, Spruill said. “Instead of an organizational chart, you have a network scheme that’s much more matrixed and networked, with member stewardship at the heart and soul of the model, invested in understanding the needs of members, connecting them in ways that they find important around issues that they care about,” she said.

“Any organization today that’s a membership organization is having to find ways to add greater value to members’ experience,” said Spruill. The trade association model was based on having data or research that the association held and gave to members in exchange for dues is outdated, she said, in today’s more outsourced and networked world. “It’s about linking, partnering and connecting,” said Spruill, likening the new structure to more of a networked hub.

The old model was more transactional and reactive while the new model will be more proactive and strategic, said Spruill, working with members as thought partners and finding solutions to members’ problems. “It required a complete redesign about how we think about ourselves, and our relationships to our members,” she said. “This is really a redesign from a transactional shop to strategic shop.”

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