On Leadership


Frances Phillips

The past year has brought forward several thoughtful investigations into the future of nonprofit leadership. Among other commentaries, Investing in Leadership by Betsy Hubbard (Volume 1) and Kathleen P. Enright (Volume 2) — published by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations — and Daring to Lead, 2006, by Jeanne Bell, Richard Moyers, and Timothy Wolfred — published by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation — are thoughtful and meaty.

Prepare to be alarmed. The sector faces a picture in which many nonprofit leaders are feeling burned out and terrified about the futures of their organizations; and many of them say that their next jobs will not be in nonprofit management. They will seek better compensation, lighter work loads, and retirement plans in their late careers. At the same time, the nonprofit world has not been investing in those who will come along next to fill leadership roles. Few nonprofits have been able to develop a strong second tier of management that will step into a leader's shoes. (Many are happy to have any paid staff.) Basic population data also raises concerns: The number of nonprofit organizations has grown substantially in the past forty years and the pending retirements of a large “baby boomer” generation will leave many empty seats.

While academic programs in nonprofit management have grown (and add value to the field), the true task of developing a leader involves more than building a base of knowledge and skills. It also requires developing a manner of investigation, habits of intellectual inquiry, abilities to communicate well, a clear set of values, integrity, and grit.

Some foundations are investing in nonprofit leadership through offering fellowship and internship programs within their own walls, where senior staff members serve as mentors to emerging talents. The San Francisco Foundation has a particularly well-established and regarded fellowship program. As he came to the end of his two-year period at the Foundation, Arts Fellow Sherwood Chen asked admired colleagues for stories about how leaders were developed — whether they themselves had mentors or had served as mentors. One thoughtful response came from San Francisco Foundation board member Hugo Morales, executive director of Radio Bilingüe. Morales describes Filemon Lopez who, as host of Radio Bilingüe's La Hora Mixteca, serves and unifies dispersed Mixteco communities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border through music, telephone calls, and the reinforcement of his listenership's cultural traditions.

Another piece, by Chen's mentor John Killacky, reflects on how being a dancer shaped his approach to arts management and creative work and on a remarkable constella-tion of nonprofit leaders who use their dancers' bodies and minds as leadership tools.

Frances Phillips
Walter and Elise Haas Fund