Leadership: An Essential Ingredient for Achieving Scaled Impact

Anne Sherman, Growth Philanthropy Network
Posted: June 8, 2012

Like many in the social sector, I believe strongly that leadership and talent development are an important factor in the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations. Having worked for over 12 years with nonprofits and foundations on strategic planning, I have witnessed first-hand the myriad ways in which leaders—working at all levels of an organization—can make or break a nonprofit's ability to advance on achieving its mission. Weak leadership capacity can be a death knell for a program or an entire organization. Strong leadership capacity, on the other hand, can really distinguish an organization in terms of programmatic quality and impact, success in raising money, and readiness for growth. 

Much has been written about the leadership deficit in the sector, which is projected to worsen as baby boomers retire and burned-out executive directors leave their positions, with the intention of leaving nonprofit life as well. A lot has been written, but little has been done, as I learned at a recent meeting of the Initiative for Nonprofit Talent and Leadership. A partnership of American Express, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Independent Sector, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, and other funders, this initiative seeks to increase awareness of the leadership challenges in our sector and drive funding toward efforts that will help solve them. 

This is an essential undertaking, but vast and complex. We don't want for definitions, research, or even effective models of talent and leadership development. What we do lack, however, are a shared understanding of and commitment to making leadership a priority in our sector. 

That is why I'm really looking forward to Developing Strong Leadership Skills to Bring Nonprofits to Scale, a session at this year’s Social Impact Exchange Conference, led by Rafael Lopez of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Richard Brown of American Express Philanthropy, James Weinberg of Commongood Careers, and Mikaela Seligman of Independent Sector. Bringing the perspectives of funder, practitioner, and field builder, each will talk about why leadership matters to scaling and what can be done to support it. 

As we enter this brave new world of scaling impact, understanding, and supporting leadership in nonprofit success will only become more important. I am eager to hear their insights and for a meaningful dialog on this critical issue.

This post originally appeared on the Independent Sector website.