What We're Thinking

Developing tomorrow’s leaders: Our approach to building leadership capacity

Organizational Effectiveness (OE) at the Packard Foundation has long invested in building the capacity of leaders. In recent years we have seen increased demand for leadership investments from our grantee partners and our program colleagues, who see this kind of support in a given sector or movement as a critical piece of creating lasting impact.

But what do we mean by leadership development? What types of leadership capacity building are out there? The OE team is currently investigating these questions with our evaluation partner, ORS Impact, with input from other leadership development funders. We hope to release new resources in the coming year on this topic. As a starting point, here are some examples of how we support leadership development within the OE program:

To strengthen organizations, in our individual OE grants we invest in the development of talent and performance management systems that support the leadership pipeline for an organization over time. We also support board development, team development, executive transition and search, succession planning, and executive coaching for individuals and teams. Executive coaching is complementary to many projects, and we hear great feedback from partners that have included executive coaching as part of a project focused, for example, on strategic planning or communications. We have also supported multiple projects that pair an executive transition with flexible coaching support so the new leader will have funds to support their leadership immediately upon starting their new position.

To support fields and movements, OE partners with our program colleagues on cohort capacity building projects, which we call Partnership Projects. These projects are designed in collaboration with our program colleagues, grantee partners, and sometimes other funders. Our leadership Partnership Projects focus on the dual purpose of strengthening the leadership of individuals and building the leadership of a given field or movement. They are typically tied closely to the programmatic goals of one of the four major programs of the foundation, where increased leadership has been identified as a key piece of the program strategy. Examples of leadership Partnership Projects underway include: the Surfrider Leadership Academy, the Conservation Alliance Fellowship, the Fiji Cross-Sector Fisheries Conservation Fellowship, the HIVE program, and the Children’s Health Leadership Network. Typically, these leadership programs are carefully tailored to a given context and provide a combination of individual leadership skill-building with training on movement building and movement leadership, with ample time for relationship building in order to build a network among the participants. The programs frequently include individual coaching and action learning projects. Because many leadership opportunities are available to senior organizational leadership and executive directors, many of these cohort leadership programs are focused on emerging leaders.

The Packard Foundation’s focus on leadership development doesn’t end with OE. It is embedded within many program strategies through ongoing investments in building the technical or content leadership of partner organizations and networks through academic fellowships, short courses, peer training, and other forms of knowledge sharing.

As we continue to investigate how both the Packard Foundation and the broader philanthropic sector invest in leadership development, we would love to hear from you. How do you define leadership development and what types of leadership projects have you found most impactful to your work? Do you have great resources that should be added to our resource page on leadership development?

Let us know!

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