January 8, 2015


Attracting, developing, and retaining talented leaders is a critical business priority at American Express and we believe that the nonprofit sector deserves a similar level of support. Established in 2007, our leadership program addresses the sector's looming "leadership deficit" and helps build capacity among organizations who are tackling some of society's most complex issues and impacting sectors including education, social service, health, environment and more.

Since starting the Leadership Academy, we've expanded it from one program in New York for 24 participants to a global continuum of programs that this year served 380 leaders. By the end of 2014, more than 1,600 leaders will have participated in the American Express Leadership Academy.

Our comprehensive approach provides both world-class training as well as funding for innovative leadership efforts. This includes:

  • American Express Leadership Academy: Launched in partnership with The Center for Creative Leadership, today the Leadership Academy includes other training partners from around the globe, such as Ashoka Changemakers, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Common Purpose and Aspen Institute. Each of these Leadership Academy programs is tailored to fit cultural nuances and serve different nonprofit niche needs ranging from social entrepreneurs to international-facing 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.
  • Leadership Grants: We provide funding to nonprofit organizations who are taking innovative and effective approaches to leadership development. Nearly 15,000 leaders worldwide have benefitted from our programs and grants.

Additionally, this year we reached more than 35,000 nonprofit leaders through social media and online outreach efforts.

Growth of Academy Participants by Year and Program

Focusing on the short-term and long-term outcomes of these programs is a key priority. Our Leadership Academy includes post training surveys through which participants have consistently provided ratings of above 4.7 out of a high score of 5.0. Last year, we invested in a third-party evaluation to further understand the impact of our Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) Academy. The study included focus groups and an in-person evaluation, as well as an online survey of 224 graduates who completed the program over the first five years. Not surprisingly—and indicative of the need for support in this area—74 percent of respondents said the Leadership Academy was the first intensive, multi-day leadership development training they ever had.

Highlights from the report include:

  • 93 percent of participants are still working in the nonprofit sector.
  • 70 percent have been promoted or taken positions with greater responsibility.
  • 64 percent are still in touch with others who participated in their Leadership Academy group.
  • 73 percent cited the value of a national network of peers as extremely meaningful.

The quantitative data also revealed that the Leadership Academy had a profound impact and that important leadership behaviors have been sustained over time, including:

  • Working more effectively and empathetically with others.
  • Sustained increase in self-awareness, and understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses.
  • Inspiration to continue growing and developing personal leadership.
  • Being more decisive, strategic and effective at delegation, as well as more confident about and adaptive to managing organizational change.

All of our best practice learnings will continue to inform current and future investment and improvement of the Leadership Academy program.

In 2015, we will build on the current momentum and increase the number of both Leadership Academy programs and the number of participants in many of our existing programs. For example, expanding our partnership with Ashoka, we are excited to be launching new American Express Emerging Innovator Bootcamps in both Eastern and Western Africa.

Additionally, in response to our research findings and desire to go to scale, we have initiated three new important endeavors:

  • To strengthen our global Leadership Academy Alumni network and foster long-term peer to peer collaboration, we will host our first American Express Leadership Academy Alumni Summit in March 2015.
  • To help nonprofits share their success stories, we have partnered with a nonprofit organization, Spark Action, to create a website that offers best practice in nonprofit leadership development.
  • And finally, to help move the needle in scaling leadership training, we've partnered with the Presidio Institute in San Francisco to create a first of its kind online leadership training portal.
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