People matter – it’s common sense

Caroline Hartnell

As a long-time philanthropy watcher, I would say ‘talent management’ is something I have thought about only very occasionally over the years, probably when new presidents/CEOs are appointed at big foundations. The appointment of Judith Rodin as president of the Rockefeller Foundation in 2005 and of Luis Ubiñas as president of the Ford Foundation a couple of years later gave rise to much debate about the merits of drawing foundation leaders from outside the field, in this case from academia and from McKinsey. In 2013 the appointment of Darren Walker as Ford Foundation president and La June Montgomery Tabron at Kellogg sparked discussion about appointing foundation leaders from within the organization. Appointment of women to top positions is also worthy of comment: is this a trend, people ask, and what are the implications? The interview with Judith Rodin offers valuable insights on all these issues.

In between, I have to admit, I haven’t given the subject a lot of thought. In the UK, the level of salaries paid to top charity executives is admittedly a hot topic in the charity and mainstream press, but the spotlight hasn’t been mainly on foundations. The dangers of foundations in poor countries poaching the best staff from NGOs is another issue that has crossed my radar.

But the idea of talent management as a sustained and central focus of a foundation is something I really haven’t thought much about – and I suspect I’m not alone in that. As the guest editors point out in their overview article, ‘While there is much talk of the financial resources needed for success, much less attention is paid to the equally if not more important human resources.’

Reading the contributions to this issue of Alliance on ‘Talent for philanthropy’ will surely undermine such short-sighted views. The message comes through time and again: to be successful, organizations must think about what sort of people they need, how they can develop their full potential, and how they can retain them. When you think about it, this is common sense! The appointment of Samantha Gilbert, one of our guest editors, to the newly created role of vice president for talent and human resources at the Ford Foundation underlines the growing importance foundations are attaching to all aspects of talent management (see p29 for Darren Walker’s comments on this new role).

One person who never underestimated the importance of people in philanthropy was Pier Mario Vello of Italy’s Cariplo Foundation, who wrote the article that appears in this issue of Alliance shortly before his untimely passing away. We are honoured to dedicate this issue of Alliance to him. To echo the guest editors, ‘We very much hope that this issue of Alliance will contribute to Pier Mario’s legacy of visionary leadership within global philanthropy.’


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