Why foundations should support leadership development in non-profits


Neelam Makhijani


Neelam Makhijani

There has been considerable coverage of the perceived crisis in non-profit leadership and succession planning. This is due to the impact on organizations’ ability to deliver the results which are so badly needed by those whom they serve, and expected by those investing in these important causes.

The need for effective and dynamic leadership to motivate staff and keep them focused on the future has never been more critical, particularly in the face of persistent tough economic times characterized by redundancies, disruptive restructuring and uncertainty. However, at a time when investing in leadership development and succession planning is so vital, organizations are under pressure to cut spending on staff training from donors who often fail to consider that effective leadership is the key to delivering the most effective results. Non-profit organizations’ most valuable assets are the people who work for them, so the most successful organizations are those that recognize and understand the importance of investing in their people.

Fundraising teams are a case in point. For fundraisers the challenges and demands to achieve are particularly pronounced, as non-profit organizations depend on them to bring in the money to sustain them. Successful fundraising drives organizations forward, providing the financial foundations on which strong programmes can be built, which in turn can deliver results. The responsibility for motivating and providing direction to the teams that are depended upon to achieve this success often falls to middle and senior fundraising managers, but when organizations decide to invest in leadership, these middle managers are often overlooked in favour of those already in leadership positions. Fundraising managers may understand the complexities of the funding environment and the motivation to support their colleagues to address these, but have neither the experience nor the skills to provide the required leadership.

To prevent stagnation, organizations must therefore put a premium on succession planning from within and promoting leadership at all levels of the organization.

Many organizations have survived and flourished through even the hardest economic times, which is testament to their ability to react, adapt and plan for the future. Organizations must now apply this ability to finding innovative ways of supporting the leadership development of their staff. Mentoring and coaching have proved particularly cost-effective in motivating staff and keeping them engaged, while training that allows staff to interact with those from other sectors promotes opportunities for bringing new ideas into their teams.

It is now essential for foundations to recognize that investment in leadership development at all levels of non-profit organizations will produce more effective results than channelling funding towards project delivery only. Only through taking a long-term approach to developing strong organizations will foundations achieve the lasting impact they are ultimately seeking.

Neelam Makhijani is chief executive of Resource Alliance, an international charity that aims to be the global network for fundraising, resource mobilization and philanthropy.

In response to the issues highlighted in this article, the Resource Alliance has recently launched the Future Leaders Programme for Fundraisers, a training and mentoring programme aimed specifically at transforming middle and senior fundraising managers into future fundraising leaders.

Tagged in: Fundraising Leadership Mentoring Succession planning

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