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How the Kresge Foundation Is Exploring Ways to Apply a Racial Equity Lens to Grantees’ Leadership Development

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By Isabelle Moses and Claire Fiser

Between 2003-2012 less than one percent of total foundation grant dollars went to leadership development investments. And, when you compare investment in leadership development across sectors, nonprofits invest an average of $29 per employee per year for leadership development compared to $129 per employee per year at for-profit businesses.

As one means to strengthen leadership development in the nonprofit sector, The Kresge Foundation is piloting a Talent and Leadership Development Program to provide 120 of its grantees with access to a curated set of services tailored to grantees’ leadership and development needs, all offered by six best-in-class service providers. The program is a model for how foundations can provide grantees with customized support at scale.

To ensure that the program addresses grantees’ greatest needs, Kresge started the design process by researching talent and leadership development trends and gathering insight from its program officers—those closest to grantees and with the strongest grasp of grantees’ strengths and challenges. The research and insights yielded hypotheses that support in the following areas would be of greatest benefit to grantees:

  1. Recruiting and retaining staff of color, and
  2. Strengthening leadership skills at the mid and senior levels.

The Foundation then sought to test these initial ideas with grantees through one-on-one conversations, surveys and in-depth interviews conducted in partnership with our team at Community Wealth Partners. What would it take to strengthen leadership in the sector? What are grantees’ greatest challenges related to recruiting and retaining talent of color? Through this process, we surfaced two key insights:

  1. Grantees are eager for leadership development, and
  2. Grantees deeply appreciate opportunities to engage in the design of programs intended to serve them.

In line with Kresge’s hypotheses, organizations wanted to better equip both mid- and senior-level staff to become stronger managers and leaders, particularly as those managers and leaders work to address complexity within their organizations and the communities they serve. Regarding increasing the representation of staff members of color, the research clarified that efforts to recruit and retain diverse staff would not suffice without explicit attention paid to fostering more inclusive and equitable organizational cultures within white-majority and/or white-led organizations.

Core Competencies of Transformational Leadership

We used our Transformational Leadership Model to help Kresge test for areas in which grantees had strengths or opportunities for growth.

With these additional insights from grantees, Kresge selected six service providers from a competitive pool. These providers offer talent and leadership development services with an intentional racial equity lens across a range of topics including leadership, management, hiring and board development. A unique aspect to the program is that in addition to supporting grantees, Kresge is also working to strengthen the field of leadership development service providers with an added emphasis on provider organizations led by people of color. Of the selected service providers, 50 percent are led by people of color (Interaction Institute for Social Change, Management Assistance Group and Race Forward). To support the providers with their own professional development, Kresge is giving each provider general operating support. The Foundation is also creating spaces in which providers can share their learnings to improve the program as a whole as well as impart peer-to-peer insights to boost their individual service offerings.

Response from grantees has been overwhelmingly positive. Of the approximately 150 grantee organizations invited to take part in the pilot program, about 80 percent accepted the invitation and were matched with one of their top choices. Ultimately, we estimate that nearly 300 mid- and senior-level leaders and managers will participate in the program. Grantees shared that this program is particularly relevant given increased urgency for social and racial justice in today’s climate.

One participating grantee shared it is a “godsend” and another said it “could not come at a better time for [our organization] and our community and nation in general.”

The work is just beginning. We will partner with Kresge throughout this pilot year to gather data on what is working in the program and what could be improved. We look forward to sharing how grantees and service providers increase their impact as a result of their participation.


About the Authors

Isabelle Moses

As a Director, Isabelle Moses partners with senior leadership teams, provides coaching and strategic direction, and supports the overall growth and development of the firm. She has more than 15 years of experience working with nonprofits, foundations, Fortune 500 companies and federal agencies. Her expertise includes developing leaders and managers, designing organizational strategies, guiding culture transformation and supporting leaders to manage change. Learn more about Isabelle and send her an email.

Claire Fiser

As a Consultant, Claire Fiser leads client engagements, advises and coaches leaders, and spearheads internal teams to develop solutions and deliverables through research and analysis. Claire brings a variety of experience in nonprofit administration, specifically in the areas of strategic collaboration, organizational strategy development, planning, and fundraising. Learn more about Claire and send her an email.

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