New Bridgespan Group Study Reveals Disconnect Between Donors and Grantees on Solving Chronic Leadership Development Deficit

11/28/2016 |


Research indicates that for the only 42 percent of nonprofits that receive funding for leadership development, the investments do not always match the need.
BOSTON, MA—November 28, 2016—Nonprofit organizations have a chronic leadership development problem, but funders and grantees don’t see eye-to-eye on how to solve it, according to a new article, featured in by The Bridgespan Group. While nearly two-thirds of funders who participated in a Bridgespan Group survey ranked leadership development as a top priority only 42 percent of nonprofits in another Bridgespan survey reported getting any grant dollars for that purpose.

Moreover, even among those nonprofits that did receive leadership development support, Bridgespan’s research indicates the investments do not always match the most critical support organizations say they need.  
According to one of the study’s authors, Bridgespan partner Kirk Kramer, “Maximizing investments in leadership requires understanding the challenges leaders are facing and matching funding to the approach that will most effectively solve those challenges. Based on our research and work with funders, we believe that making higher-impact leadership investments begins by making a significant investment upfront to answer two important questions: What is the problem, and what is the right investment to address that problem?”
Kramer’s co-author and Bridgespan manager Libbie Landles-Cobb elaborated, “This requires engaging the stakeholders who understand the challenges best: nonprofit staff, boards, recruiting professionals, and other field experts to get a deeper sense of what support specific leaders and organizations need to cultivate talent. Our research shows that these needs differ by field: there is no one-size-fits-all solution we can default to.” To help funders with making the right investments, the Bridgespan team identified a number of approaches funders can choose from to address leadership challenges they uncover ranging from traditional tools like executive education to building in-house talent management capabilities. The study cites organziations like Leading Edge and The Tiger Foundation who have been exemplars in being strategic about their investments in leadership by deeply understanding the challenges first.
The third co-author, Bridgespan partner Betsy Haley Doyle summarized saying, “The gap our survey discovered between funders’ good intentions and grantees’ needs prevents funders from realizing their goals for building stronger nonprofit and field leaders. Closing that gap will require funders to think and act differently, whether loosening the grip on overhead expenditures or taking more time to dig deeply into the leadership challenges of individual grantees but it is an investment worth making.”
About The Bridgespan Group
The Bridgespan Group ( is a nonprofit advisor and resource for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists. We collaborate with social sector leaders to help scale impact, build leadership, advance philanthropic effectiveness and accelerate learning. We work on issues related to society’s most important challenges and to break cycles of intergenerational poverty. Our services include strategy consulting, leadership development, philanthropy advising, and developing and sharing practical insights.
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