Sector Not Paying To Develop New Leaders

March 4, 2015       Patrick Sullivan      

Less than one percent of grant dollars were put towards nonprofit leadership development between 2003 and 2012, according to a new report.

Nonprofit sector leaders “are under tremendous stress as they juggle the roles of being visionaries, activists and administrators, not to mention their responsibilities and relationships outside of work,” according to Niki Jagpal, senior director of research and policy at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). “We need to ensure these individuals get the support they need to be successful drivers of today’s social change movements.”

Jagpal and Ryan Schlegel wrote the report, released by NCRP and titled “Cultivating Nonprofit Leadership: A (Missed?) Philanthropic Opportunity.” The report lays out the importance of leadership development, analyzes data from the Foundation Center, and offers recommendations for supporting and enhancing nonprofit leaders.

Leadership development can lead to collaboration and innovation, prevents burnout and has a “multiplier effect” on an organization, according to the report. “This report explores leadership development as a tool to create transformational change,” wrote Jagpal and Schlegel.

While the overall dollar amount of grants given by the 1,000 largest U.S. foundations has increased from just less than $15 billion in 2003 to more than $20 billion in 2012, the percentage of those dollars going to leadership development has declined, from a high of nearly 1.4 percent to just more than 0.6 percent. The number of leadership development grants has remained flat during the same period, an average of 0.8 percent of the total number of grants made.

The average of total dollars granted for leadership development was 0.9 percent. The year 2007 was the high point for leadership development dollars, almost $270 million. After 2008, these dollars dipped below the 10-year average, and stood at about $160 million in 2012.

The notable exception is in the realm of social justice. More than half of all leadership development dollars were also classified as social justice funding. But while the social justice sector received a higher percentage of leadership development grant dollars than the average, they were only 3.9 percent of dollars received. “This suggest that, while social justice is consistently correlated with leadership development (whether intentionally or not), leadership development is rarely a priority component of social justice funding,” wrote the authors.

The report makes five recommendations for grantmakers.

  • Begin or increase funding for leadership development: The authors recommend starting with humility and recognizing that no one organization knows everything about leadership development. Talk with funders that already make significant investments in leadership, such as the Ford Foundiation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and others.
  • Integrate leadership development with program strategy: Funding leadership development should not be an afterthought. Help organizations build the skills they need to create the outcomes you want.
  • Engage with grantees as true partners: It’s all about relationships with grantees. “Foundations need to work with grantees to solve pressing social ills, rather than dictate the solutions,” wrote Jagpal and Schlegel
  • Use a culturally inclusive lens: Funders need to follow their grantees’ needs and “consider the cultural, political and social context of the leadership development course,” wrote the authors. Leadership development programming and grantmaking must be fluid and able to adapt to shifting organizational circumstances.
  • Build capacity that supports leadership development: “As with any aspect of systems change work, leadership development must be considered as part of a multidimensional network of reactions and relationships,” according to the report. Consider funding support systems so top executives can attend leadership development programs for a month or more and not return to an organization weakened by their absence.

To see the full report go to: www.ncrp.org