Foundations’ Role in Supporting Nonprofit Leadership Development

Patricia Brandes, senior advisor at the Barr Foundation, spoke at our 11th Nonprofit Workout Luncheon Plenary (November 17, 2007) about the role of foundations in building a network of nonprofit leaders that goes beyond organizational boarders – linking organizational impact to broader community impact.

Patricia Brandes, senior advisor at the Barr Foundation, spoke at TSNE MissionWorks’ 11th Nonprofit Workout Luncheon Plenary (November 17, 2007) about the role of foundations in building a network of nonprofit leaders that goes beyond organizational boarders–linking organizational impact to broader community impact.

Pat Brandes: I want to start [my presentation] by recommending a great book called “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded.”

A Generation of Leaders

The Barr Fellows Program [supporting nonprofit organizations and leadership development] came into existence for a lot of reasons. But a few that are pertinent, I think, to this conversation had to do with a number of reports that came out right before it was designed. One of them was called “Daring to Lead” by CompassPoint, and it basically said there’s going to be this huge executive turnover because all of us, who got into this work in the 60s, are going to retire and there’s not a next generation ready to take over.

Another report that came out is called “The Leadership Deficit in the Nonprofit Sector” by Bridgestar, which basically said there’s going to be a need for 640,000 senior managers, 2.4 times the number of senior managers currently in the nonprofit sector. Where are they going to come from? We need to set up recruitment into the for-profit sector and into the MBA programs so that we have enough capacity to run the nonprofit sector.

Supporting a Network of Leaders

The third is not a report, but everywhere, some of us who went into rooms of power in the city, you’d hear that Boston has a leadership deficit. You hear all the time “we need a new Vault, we need a new Vault.” For those of you not from Boston, the Vault was a small group of very powerful CEOs that used to help make decisions in the city, and it went out of existence about 10 years ago. [But] it’s a myth, [the Vault] was never that great to begin with.

So those were some of the backdrops when we started to look into leadership and what we might do in the foundation about it.

Now the responses to those reports:

  • First of all, [there’s] the idea that all of us closing in on our 60s are about to retire.
    • You know, we didn’t have time to learn how to play golf. Most in the nonprofit sector were not paid enough to retire.
    • Besides, they’re social activists, so they don’t want to retire.
  • My response to the report from Bridgestar about recruiting from the for-profit sector is that you can learn management skills, but it’s really hard to learn to love justice. There are plenty of people that have that love of justice that are in the organization working now. So we need to focus on them.
  • The third thing, the Vault…I don’t know about you, but I don’t go into one centralized bank and get led into a room to find my money. I go into any street corner and use an ATM machine. ATMs are a networked way of getting our money. Times have changed and we should probably look at leadership more like ATMs than vaults.

Distributed Leadership

Those sorts of ideas were behind the idea of the Barr Fellows. The Barr Fellows, for those of you that don’t know, every two years chooses 12 of the outstanding executive directors in the Boston area, connecting them, celebrating them. [The program] really believes that a diverse group of leaders like that, if really connected to one another, can help change the city. But they need certain things to reflect.

So that’s a little bit about what the Barr Fellows Program is. It’s a sabbatical and three-year fellowship program. But underpinning it are two big ideas. One is network theory and the other is distributed leadership. And so, the slides I’m going to show you have to do with that.

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