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They Say Admitting You Have a Problem is Half the Battle

The Council on Foundations should be commended for its emerging leadership in talent and diversity and inclusive-related issues throughout the philanthropic community.

At various conferences, through dedicated convenings such as the one that I was fortunate to have recently attended, and by conducting research including Career Pathways to Philanthropic Leadership, the Council is increasingly focusing its attention on the human side of foundation work. For example…

  • Who makes important human resource investment decisions?
  • How are individuals selected, prepared, and managed?
  • How can we improve the status quo?

All of this is a good start and I wouldn’t say that it is “too little, too late,” especially because I am so appreciative of all efforts moving in this direction, but, as a sector, man oh man do we have a long way to go!

These are issues and problems that have been largely ignored for the better part of a century. And foundations, as a whole, have historically been more of the cause of the probli than its solution when it comes to human resources.

Traditional philanthropic thinking has classified almost all overhead as wasteful, slashed HR functions as expendable, and created a sector of unstable, unsustainable, inefficient, and ineffective organizations. The current state of HR in the larger foundation community and the nonprofit sector at large can best be categorized as abysmal, but it is not without hope.

I am happy to see a new wave of institutions emerging, most notably led by a few major institutions and the maverick venture philanthropists who fund social entrepreneurs. Some of these folks truly appreciate the importance of investing in human capital. They have seen that their grantees and their own institutions are better able to generate social return on investment when they recruit the right leadership, compensate them appropriately, manage them effectively, and ensure that they continue to develop and grow as individuals.

I would encourage the Council in everything that it does to find and connect with these enlightened next-generation funders, hold them up as exemplars, and position them to be teachers and evangelists for the rest of us.

There is a moral imperative at work here. We must get better at talent recruitment, management, and development. To fail in this endeavor, or to continue to fail to try to improve, is an enormous waste of resources and a corruption of our social mission.

—posted by James Weinberg

James Weinberg is Founder and CEO of Commongood Careers. He also serves as a board member on Emerging Practitioners In Philanthropy.

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