Grantmakers Who Get It: Investing in Leadership for Philanthropic Impact

In a recent blog post in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Ira Hirschfield, President of the  Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund presents the case that foundations need to do more to fund leadership development. In the blog “Investing in Leadership to Accelerate Philanthropic Impact,” Hirschfield points out less than 1 percent of overall foundation giving from 1992 through 2011 went to leadership development.


Leadership Advanced Milwaukee 2014 Fellows. Leadership Advanced is a foundation-funded, cohort-based, peer-centered, professional development program for nonprofit leaders.

Why Funding Talent Matters

Hirschfield states, “foundations ask a great deal of the organizations we support… 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.”

He continues “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….”

The Haas, Jr. Fund views investment in leadership as a core strategy to accelerate their foundation’s impact and a formal evaluation of their Flexible Leadership Awards found the program boosted impact.

Adding protein powder to grantmakers energy shake

One Flexible Leadership Awards grantee shares her experience as “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.”

Hirschfield explains, “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.”

Read more at Hirschfield’s blog and check out SSIR’s entire Talent Matters series to learn more about philanthropy’s chronic underinvestment in leadership and innovative solutions for greater impact.

Call to Action for Grantmakers

Does your foundation want to accelerate its impact?  And what does a leadership program look like?  Check out Leadership Advanced Milwaukee, a collaboration of Vista Global and Spectrum Nonprofit Services.

Would the nonprofit leaders in your city or region benefit from a similar leadership development program?  Contact Vista Global Coaching & Consulting to learn more about starting a cohort-based, peer-centered, professional development program in your area.