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.

Lessons from the Land Trust Alliance Rally 2014: Storytelling and Engaged Listening

Recently I delivered a workshop entitled, “Using Coaching Skills to Build Staff Leadership” at the Land Trust Alliance Rally 2014 in Providence, RI.

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I arrived not knowing that the keynote speaker for the plenary was Andy Goodman.  I heard Andy Goodman speak in 2008 in a small room at the CompassPoint Nonprofit Day so I was thrilled to hear him again talk about Building your Story as a nonprofit.  This was a slightly different experience with 1,800 people, however still engaging and catalyzing.

Change the story, change the world

A few of Goodman’s key messages in framing your organization’s story:

  • Numbers numb
  • Jargon jars
  • Stories get stored

“Stories get inside our brains and act like software. Change the story, change the world.”

He offered an easy structure to use to create our organization’s stories.

  1. Who is it about? (there has to be a protagonist)
  2. What is it about?
  3. What is the barrier? The more barriers the better, it draws people in!
  4. What does the protagonist do?
  5. And in the end… the moral, the call to action?

Golden Rules of Storytelling

The plenary flowed beautifully into the morning workshop that I attended by Heather Yandow of 3rd Space Studio entitled, “Telling Your Land Trust’s Story”.  This workshop gave participants the opportunity to write and practice their organization’s story.

Heather added her “Golden Rules” of Storytelling.

  1. Be clear about your audience
  2. It is not about you..but it is about somebody. (The protagonist)
  3. Drop the jargon
  4. Tell the truth
  5. Bring a tear to the listener’s eye (BTW, Goodman showed three video clips and they all nailed this one!)
  6. Make the “so what” clear


Tell Your Organization’s Story

It was a inspiring learning lab and I was hoping that some of the participants that attended Heather’s workshop would attend my workshop on Coaching Skills because the interactive exercise in the workshop asks for participants to “Tell your organization’s story.”  Good fortune would have it that there were quite a few people attending my workshop that did have their story drafted and ready to tell.

Learn to Listen

Participants in my coaching workshop practiced listening- the foundational skill of coaching.  I asked them to work on mirroring, paraphrasing and drawing out the speaker.  Although it felt awkward to many, as learning any new skill does, it really raised the awareness about how well we practice fully engaged listening.

So what does listening and coaching have to do with building leadership?

Leadership is about motivating, inspiring, aligning and leveraging people’s talents.  Your ability to understand what talents your team members can contribute is enhanced by engaged listening.  Your ability to align and leverage the talents of your team members is enhanced by coaching skills.

Are you wondering how coaching and listening can build leadership throughout your organization? Give me a call, let’s chat about it!

Reaching the Summit with Girls on the Run

Recently I partnered with Forward Community Investments and Girls on the Run of Dane County to present a case study on capacity building and strategy development at the Girls on the Run Summit in San Antonio, TX.  We had more than 85 participants interested in learning about how to build capacity and think strategically to chart the future path of their councils.

The 2014 Girls on the Run (GOTR) Summitt. From left to right: Dennis Johnson, VP of Advisory Services of Forward Community Investments, Sara Pickard, Executive Director, GOTR of Dane County, Mary Stelletello, Principal, Vista Global Coaching & Consulting, and Mindi Giftos, Board Chair, GOTR of Dane County.
The 2014 Girls on the Run (GOTR) Summit. Dennis Johnson, VP of Advisory Services, Forward Community Investments, Mindi Giftos, Board Chair, GOTR of Dane County, Mary Stelletello, Principal, Vista Global Coaching & Consulting, and Sara Pickard, Executive Director, GOTR of Dane County.

It was wonderful to work with Girls on the Run because their vision so strongly aligns with my own personal values:  “A world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.”

The 2014 Girls on the Run Summit kicked-off in San Antonio, Texas.
The 2014 Girls on the Run Summit kicked-off in San Antonio, Texas.

Are you interested in reaching your limitless potential and boldly pursuing your dreams?  Let’s talk about how coaching can help you.

Or maybe your nonprofit organization is launching a strategic planning or capacity building initiative? Contact me today! I look forward to helping your organization reach the summit.

Equality and Equity: Our Generation’s Legacy

Growing up in Illinois, “the Land of Lincoln” I took a special interest in our sixteenth president and his efforts to create a nation where “all men are created equal” and that we are a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.

I was born a year after the Civil Rights Act was passed and two years after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, commemorating 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation.

In a legal sense, I never experienced my country’s segregation. But as I started public elementary school, these core tenets of equality (as I understood them) didn’t seem to line up with how things were done.

This experience raised my awareness of equality and equity. Equality is being treated the same. Equal opportunity, equal access to success. But when there are roadblocks to this success, equity comes into play.

Equal access doesn’t mean equal outcome. For example, even though I am allowed to apply for college using the same application process as a male in the name of equal access, this doesn’t mean we arrived at that college application investing the same level of effort or will have an equitable experience let alone the same level of success.

Difference can be correlated to inequality or diversity. How do we value the difference between one another? How do we value diversity? Equity is a way that we can arrive at a place where we can value that difference.

“Leveling the playing field” is a term used to create equity. Example: On the track, when running 400 meters, instead of placing runners at the starting line, the runners are placed in a staggered start to create equity.

Register for the Leadership and Equity webinar on January 28, 2014.

These concepts of equality and equity are important because in our generation, discrimination is often unintentional or less overt when compared to the era of Martin Luther King, Jr.  But just because discrimination is unintentional does not mean it won’t have a lasting negative impact.

When we unintentionally surround ourselves with people just like ourselves we don’t have awareness of the roadblocks or challenges that some may face to achieve that same status.

Whether we are at a board meeting or a cocktail party, if everyone is the same race, class, gender or sexual orientation, we can’t benefit from the wisdom that comes from sharing diverse perspectives.

Yes I am of the post-Civil Rights Act generation that did not witness segregation. There is awareness among my peers about equality. But there is less awareness and understanding of equity and why it is critical to a fair and just society.

If you have interest in exploring this topic of equality and equity, please join me and my colleague, Cheryl D. Fields on March 25, 2014 at 1pm PST/4pm EST for a webinar entitled Leadership & Equity hosted by the Leadership Learning Community. Register for the webinar today!

We will continue this dialogue and what role each one of us can play to move our world closer toward the vision shared by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Developing a Sustainable Approach to Leadership

When I took my first job as an executive director at age 25, I didn’t really think about embarking on a career as a nonprofit leader. However, more than 20 years later, I have led five different organizations with annual budgets ranging from $150,000 to $13 million. As an executive director, I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership development program that confirmed some practices that allowed me to strengthen my leadership skills and create a path for sustaining my leadership.


Today, serving the nonprofit sector as a consultant, I have the opportunity to be a facilitator of leadership development programs. I draw from my diversity of experiences as an executive director and the seven key themes that sustained me in those positions.

Start with fire in the belly.

You absolutely must be passionate about the work that you are doing. That energy is what will drive you in tough times and will motivate your staff to do their best work. When people are feeling down and struggling, they will look to you as a barometer of the organization’s health. If you can’t see the path to better times, they won’t either. This is not to say you should be wearing rose-colored glasses but, as suggested by Jim Collins in Good to Great, it reminds me of the “Stockdale paradox”: acknowledging the brutal facts, but never losing hope is essential to success.

Everyone is a leader; leadership is a team sport.

Leadership is not a commodity for sale to the highest bidder or a “star is born” phenomenon. I learned this when I started playing Little League in 1972. Everyone is a leader in some way, and the trick as an “anointed leader” is to identify the key to opening that leadership pathway in those around you. One tactic to avoid burnout is to spread the load of leadership throughout your organization. In his book, Leadership is an Art, Max De Pree, chairman emeritus of Herman Miller, Inc., calls this “roving leadership.” The only way to open that leadership pathway is to listen deeply to those around you to determine how their passion fits with the vision of the organization.

When staff feel that their thoughts actually do matter and that everyone is in the same boat trying to get to the same destination, there is a greater interest in paddling together. You must be genuine and authentic in your actions. When you say you want people’s input, it must be true, and your behavior must be in alignment with your statements. Leaders who are dictators in disguise will only achieve what they individually desire. There is greater success in collective power than in the power of one.

Create an environment that rewards learning and innovation.

We live in a world that seems to be changing with greater speed with each generation. As a leader, you have to be a change agent, not an idea squelcher. Fostering the desire to learn and explore new ways to address challenges enhances your success. This will keep your work interesting and allow your organization to be more effective. Many of the leadership gurus — Peter Senge, James Kouzes, Barry Posner and John Kotter — all emphasize the importance of life-long learning as an attribute of effective leaders.

Recharge your battery.

It is very easy to get sucked into the constant barrage of communication, particularly email, and never lift your head. This trap will become a downward spiral to burnout if you don’t carve out some space on a regular basis that allows you to fully unplug. Whether it is doing something outside, reading something completely unrelated to work, cooking or playing music, you must protect a segment of time that is dedicated to clearing your head of everything that burdens you as a leader. You owe it to yourself and to the cause you are serving. Take Tony Schwartz’s Energy Audit to see how you are doing.


The work that you do can be fraught with what seems to be insurmountable challenges on a regular basis. One approach to mitigating the effects of these difficulties is to create a culture of intentional celebration. It could be opening your staff meeting with a standing agenda item of “Thanks and Acknowledgements,” or creating the organization’s “Let the Fun Begin” committee that is responsible for maintaining a level of celebration in the organization. Social support networks enhance productivity, psychological well being and even physical health, so make your workplace such a network.

Build a network of support.

Being a leader, particularly in an executive director position, can be a lonely place. It is important to identify a support network, perhaps a breakfast club or monthly brown bag lunches with fellow executive directors who have the same struggles as you and who can offer insights and support in maintaining your sense of purpose and inspiration.

Preparing for nonprofits of the future.

Because my generation bridges the baby boomer and Gen X generations, I have been fortunate to see the world through glasses with both sets of lenses. A leader’s appreciation of generational work styles is critical to success. Boomers display a heightened sense of commitment, dedication and long-term loyalty to one organization and employ a more traditional leadership style, whereas Gen Xers approach leadership as a flexible, “open source” affair, a collaborative work style that conveys the sense that it is everyone’s business, and we all have to do our part to achieve success.

When approaching leadership with these key themes in mind, you are sustaining yourself and developing your bench strength. You are creating a pathway for the next generation of leaders who will be ready to take over when their time comes if it hasn’t already arrived.

This article was originally published at, February 27, 2009.

Launching Leadership Advanced Milwaukee

About 18 months ago, I met with Steve Zimmerman, Principal of  Spectrum Nonprofit Services.  Steve and I both came to Wisconsin from the San Francisco Bay Area.  Previously, Steve had worked for CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and I had worked for La Piana Consulting. We met to discuss our perspectives about the nonprofit sector and how we might collaborate.

MIlwaukeeNightSkylineIn sharing his observations of the Milwaukee nonprofit sector, one comment Steve made sparked the design of Leadership Advanced Milwaukee (LAM).  His statement below resonated with me as I’m sure it resonates with many readers of this blog.

“Nonprofits have access to a lot of tools to aid in management, but it takes leadership to utilize those tools to their fullest potential and there aren’t as many resources dedicated to developing and supporting those leaders.” – Steve Zimmerman, Spectrum Nonprofit Services

I am passionate about helping nonprofits invest in their greatest asset: their leaders. I’ve spent most of my nonprofit career leading various-sized nonprofit organizations and the majority of my consulting work has been focused on designing and facilitating nonprofit leadership programs.  I founded Vista Global Coaching & Consulting with an emphasis on consulting organizations and coaching leaders so they can make a difference in the world.

Since that first meeting, Steve and I designed the LAM program based on a peer-centered learning model.  We met with potential funders to recruit support for our nonprofit leadership program that blends management skill development and leadership development.  Our concept was well received and funding was confirmed in March 2013.  We began recruitment in the end of May 2013 and selected our inaugural class on August 1.

On September 11-12, 2013 the first class of Leadership Advanced Milwaukee Fellows and board members from their organizations will convene to begin their 8-month journey.  In this kick-off session, some of the topics we will explore include personal leadership, the roles and responsibilities of nonprofit boards, nonprofit organizational life cycles and articulating your organization’s intended impact.

I am honored to be partnering with Steve and this impressive group of dedicated nonprofit leaders to build stronger nonprofits and a stronger community.  A warm welcome our first class of Leadership Advanced Milwaukee Fellows:

Kate Bradley, Education Director, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts

Maureen Crowley, Program Director, Charles E. Benidt Foundation

Martina Gollin-Graves, Project and Outreach Manager, Mental Health America of WI

Beth Haskovec, Executive Director, Artists Working in Education, Inc.

Carol Keintz, Executive Director, Next Door Foundation

Amy Lindner, CEO, Meta House, Inc.

Dan Magnuson, Executive Director, Pathfinders

Laura Maker, Director of Development, Diverse & Resilient

Brenda Peterson, Executive Director, Volunteer Center of Ozaukee County

Kim Schubring, Family and Youth Program Director, Bay View Community Center of Milwaukee

Donna Triplett, Director of Development, Sixteenth Street Community Health Center

Is your foundation interested in supporting nonprofit leaders? Are you a nonprofit leader seeking resources?  Contact me today and let’s work together to make a difference in the world.