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Building the Capacity of the Social Sector

September 22, 2014

The last three weeks, we've explored the idea that access to capital is one of the critical issues impacting nonprofit organizations and social enterprises. Last week, we looked at ten suggestions that the Nonprofit Finance Fund has made to foundations and corporations when deciding on how to assist the capital needs of the sector.

American Express has been focused on building the capacity of the sector through our focus on leadership development and community service for many years. Our Leadership program, established in 2007, was created in response to the well documented "leadership deficit" in the sector and the lack of resources available to underwrite leadership training for dedicated leaders who are tackling some of society's most complex issues. Our comprehensive approach provides both world-class training as well as funding for innovative leadership development efforts.

The American Express Leadership Academy was launched in 2008 with the Center for Creative Leadership. Today, our Leadership Academy programs include partners from around the globe, including Ashoka Changemakers, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Common Purpose and the Aspen Institute. Each of these Academy programs is tailored to fit cultural nuances and serve different nonprofit needs ranging from social entrepreneurs to multi-national nonprofits.

Since 2008, we have hosted over 50 Leadership Academy programs in six countries, including the U.S., U.K., India, Japan, Mexico and Canada supporting more than 1,500 nonprofit and social sector leaders.

We also provide funding to nonprofit organizations who are taking innovative and effective approaches to leadership development. These approaches can involve anything from transforming organizations through new management practices to expanding an organization's capacity to attract, develop and retain leadership talent. Nearly 15,000 leaders worldwide have benefitted from these grants and programs.

Additionally, in 2013 we reached more than 35,000 individuals through social media and on-line outreach efforts such as Twitter chats and live streaming of Academy programs.

One such streaming took place on May 7, 2014 as part of our New York Leadership Academy. Based on feedback that we had received from other Academy participants, we decided to include fundraising as one of the developmental skills that emerging leaders were interested in learning more about. In this case, we organized a panel of three institutional funders and a moderator and streamed the event so that participants in our Leadership Academy at Thunderbird (which was taking place simultaneous with the New York Academy) would benefit from the presentation. We also encouraged participation through Twitter and other social media channels.

The panel was moderated by Dennis White, Executive Chairman of Ashoka Changemakers, and it included Richard Brown, Vice President of Philanthropy at American Express; Phillip Henderson, President of the Surdna Foundation; and Rose Stuckey Kirk, President of the Verizon Foundation. The entire recorded event can be found here.

Next week, we'll explore advice and suggestions from the panelists in more depth, but as a teaser, when the panelists were asked what they thought the three most important strengths that an organization should have when requesting funding, Phil Henderson replied (paraphrased here):

  • Leadership really matters. Don't forget that people fund people, and it's important to have impressive leaders.
  • You have to be able to handle the money (so back office administrative skills are important).
  • Clarity of purpose. Knowing what you are really good at.

If you have a comment or question, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and let's start a conversation there.

Next week: Learning from Funders of the Social Sector


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Welcome to CSR Now!, a weekly blog designed to get at what’s happening in Corporate Social Responsibility today – from the point of view of a corporate practitioner.



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