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YES! Talent Matters in the Social Sector

Guest Post Authored by Rafael López (@rafaellopez2) of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Talent is one of just a few primary drivers known to fuel organizational performance, yet our sector under-invests in talent, neglecting to fully recognize the power of talent to solve our greatest social problems.   As Billy Shore highlighted in his most recent post on Community Wealth Partners’ blog, “spending money on people rather than programs can be a hard sell in the social sector.” It has always been a hard sell, but it shouldn’t be that way. The people served by the social sector deserve the best talent,  period.

Over many years of investing in the development of social sector leaders and over the past year of working with Community Wealth Ventures, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has developed a compelling understanding of the need to attract diverse talent to the field.

And we’ve seen – especially in recent years – encouraging signs that talented individuals want to join us.

There appears to be significant opportunity around attracting these individuals to the results-driven work of our sector, and we believe now is a critical time to capture and cultivate this talent.

Yet, we still see these high-performers being won over by the lures of Wall Street and other jewels of the private sector.

Why? Because, as a whole, the social sector has not placed a high enough premium on the power of talent. We have swayed too far towards complacently assuming that talented individuals with a flickering passion for social good will naturally or inevitably join the sector. We have not valued the potential in talent as much as talent seems to value the potential in us.

A decade ago, McKinsey released a powerful study entitled The War for Talent that emphasized that “in today’s competitive knowledge-based world, the caliber of a company’s talent increasingly determines success in the marketplace.” This understanding of talent as a primary driver of organizational performance has taken off in the for-profit sector. The best companies now aggressively invest in and pursue recruitment of our nation’s top talent.

The social sector has not followed suit.

And as competition and demand for talent increases across all sectors, we must act quickly. We cannot assume that our sector can wait on the sidelines as our world rapidly changes around us. Social sector organizations need to make a strong case that their work offers the best opportunity to create community impact in a meaningful, rewarding, and career-advancing manner.

Unfortunately, strategic and comprehensive human capital management is often seen as a luxury within the social sector. Organizations – like Share Our Strength – have struggled to successfully advocate to their key stakeholders or to the general public why investment in talent should take the organization’s limited resources away from programmatic work. It seems silly to remind us all that beloved programs don’t just “run themselves.” They are powered by talented people who create, develop, operate and expand them.

As social sector organizations strive to improve their results, millions of children continue to face risks of poor educational, economic, social, and health outcomes. In order to build better futures for these vulnerable children and their families, the social sector must be even more deliberate and strategic in attracting, developing, and deploying high-performing, diverse talent. We must strengthen our pipeline. We cannot wait.

At the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we are looking for ways to build a strong, national pipeline of talent for the social sector.  We also want to demonstrate to the field that talent drives social impact. We’re thrilled to be working with Community Wealth Partners’ on this puzzle and we are continually looking for more partners, visionaries, implementers, thought leaders, etc. to join us as we move forward.

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About Rafael Lopez

Rafael López is the Associate Director for Talent Management and Leadership Development of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States. Prior to joining the Foundation, López served as the President and CEO of The Family League of Baltimore City, Inc. where he also served as a member of the Baltimore City Mayor’s Cabinet.