Knowing What You Don't Know: A Case Study in Flexible Leadership

Editor's Note: This post comes from Linda Wood, Senior Director of Leadership and Grantmaking at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.

Linda WoodThe Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund Flexible Leadership Awards (FLA) Program, a Tides Center project, recently released a video case study of our work with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). The video highlights the importance—and the impact—of investing in social justice leadership.

The video tells the story of how NCLR, in a very short time, grew from a well-respected but relatively small nonprofit to the forefront of the movement for marriage equality. And it shows how—lacking the time or knowledge to create a broader culture of leadership or a solid structure for decision-making—NCLR leaders Kate Kendell and Shannon Minter felt pressure to do it all themselves. Lastly, the video and accompanying materials show how, through the Flexible Leadership Award support, NCLR was able to take a step back and develop a strong senior leadership team, as well as increase its capacity for fundraising and communications.

The end result? NCLR is now stable and well-positioned not only to handle whatever challenges come next, but to advance a proactive agenda for social justice.

It’s the story of a valuable partnership between a funder and grantee.  And behind this partnership is another successful collaboration—between the Haas Jr. Fund and Tides Center.

The Fund established the FLA program as a project of Tides in 2005 to help our social change grantees cope with the twin challenges of organizational growth and movement leadership. Since that time, the program has served more than 50 nonprofits, helping them to strengthen everything from executive leadership capabilities to board development to fundraising capacity and communications.

We couldn’t have done this work without Tides. For one, as a grant-making foundation, we are frankly not set up to operate programs such as the Flexible Leadership Awards. Tides’ fiscal sponsorship and back-office support enables us to provide Plan Consultants to work exclusively with our grantees on developing the customized leadership supports they need.  It also allows us to be creative in designing the programs our grantees need most—be it peer convenings, one-on-one coaching, or help building a senior leadership team.

For another, nonprofit leaders are typically loath to admit to funders that they’re facing challenges.  The fact that the FLA Program Director, Paula Morris, and the Plan Consultants work for Tides, not the Fund, has created a level of separation between the Fund and the grantees—a firewall of sorts—leading to greater candor and confidence that the grantees can work on whatever leadership issues they need to address.

Last but not least, Tides' social justice focus means that Tides understands the everyday challenges and the trailblazing victories of our grantees. It's a partnership that adds tremendous value both practically and in terms of furthering the social change work that we all care deeply about.

Linda Wood is senior director of Leadership and Grantmaking at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, a family foundation based in San Francisco that is dedicated to providing fundamental rights and opportunities for all people.

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