Developing Talent to Scale Impact

The 2012 Social Impact Exchange Conference and Symposium featured some inspiring conversations about talent and leadership development, and highlighted exciting new strategies that funders are undertaking to increase the impact of their grantees.

The Tuesday afternoon Symposium Plenary, “Developing Strong Leaders in Planning for Scale” tackled some of the key questions around the kind of leadership that fosters successful scaling and how grantmakers can help their grantees develop strong talent recruitment, development and retention “eco-systems.” James Weinberg, founder and CEO of Commongood Careers encouraged funders to look beyond CEOs for leadership development opportunities and highlighted the need to develop robust teams of leaders. Weinberg also cited research from TCC Group, which showed that organizations have different talent needs at different stages of their organizational trajectory. The evolving talent needs for scaling nonprofits further affirms the importance of having nonprofit leaders who are adaptable and flexible.

Another exciting conversation formed around the Initiative for Nonprofit Talent and Leadership, discussed by Mikaela Seligman of Independent Sector during the Tuesday Symposium Plenary, and Richard Brown of American Express on Wednesday. The Initiative is based on the idea that leadership and talent development for nonprofits is one of the most effective ways to create transformational and sustainable results for communities, and that funders should view it as an essential and significant investment. The Initiative began at the White House Forum on Nonprofit Leadership in 2011, during which time over 200 cross-sector leaders came together to strategize and create an action plan for developing nonprofit leadership and talent. The conversation continued after the Forum had ended, with nearly 200 more stakeholders joining to help refine the goals and strategies that had been created. The groundswell of support for an intentional and collective engagement with this topic is a reflection of how pressing this issue is to our sector, and we at GEO are excited to participate in the Initiative as it continues to develop and implement its strategies and goals.

GEO’s Scaling What Works initiative is also focusing on talent development, and in particular on providing funders with the knowledge and tools that they need to start putting these ideas in to practice in their own organizations. Scaling What Works has just released How Can Grantmakers Focus on Talent to Grow Impact?the eighth and final briefing paper in its Reframing the Conversation series. The paper highlights some key themes for funders to consider, such as the unique talent needs of scaling nonprofits, how to create dialogue with nonprofits about talent development, where to focus their resources, and how to develop collective leadership capacity.

GEO and Scaling What Works will also host a webinar and discussion on this topic on June 28th. Panelists include Jill Vialet, founder and CEO of Playworks, who will discuss the evolution of her organization’s talent needs as it went to scale, and the funder practices that she found to be most supportive of talent development during this process. Rafael López, Associate Director of Talent and Leadership Development at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, will share the methods and tools that AECF uses to support talent development, and the lessons they have learned along the way. And finally, Pratichi Shah, President and CEO of Flourish Talent Management Solutions and one of the briefing paper’s authors, will share her insights on how funders can implement these practices in their own grantmaking, and how a robust talent infrastructure relates to a nonprofit’s ability to scale impact. We hope that you will join us by registering today.

Given the wealth of opportunities to discuss and explore talent and leadership development during the conference, it’s clear that this topic is on our minds. We are thrilled to be one voice of many in such a dynamic and reflective field. We look forward to seeing how these conversations shape and change grantmakerpractice, and as it does, let us know how it goes! Contact us through and tell us your stories of talent development, your successes, and your lessons learned.

Emily Wexler is Project Specialist, Scaling What Works at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.