Paying Proper Attention to Your Professional Staff

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

Professional staff have the undeniable potential to further your philanthropy’s impact. Whether you’re currently staffed, anticipating a new hire, or simply weighing your options, here are tips to help your paid professionals flourish.

Before a hire: Put your affairs—and your mindset—in order

It goes without saying that bring staff on board requires time behind the scenes to iron out job descriptions, compensation and benefits, work space, office equipment, and other needs—and we hear from members just how often they underestimate the time it takes to complete these tasks.

On par with the time you dedicate to these logistics is the time you dedicate to adjusting your mindset about what it means to hire and develop a staff person. Successful employers know their people are critical assets—perhaps the organization’s most critical—and they view the manager’s role as an opportunity to nurture those assets for the good of the organization.

“Leaders are strengthened by those around them,” says Sharmila Rao Thakkar, executive director of The Siragusa Foundation. “The work will always be there, but priority number one for us is developing, guiding, mentoring, building, and lifting up others.”

Successful employers also anticipate—and help others adapt to—the changes that come with hiring new staff. “Moving from a model with the board fully in charge to staff having functional and strategic decision-making power is a big change,” says Program Director Erin Cinelli of the Emanuel and Pauline A. Lerner Foundation. “We’re in the middle of figuring out what the dynamic is going to look like, and there are bound to be growing pains.”

Get information and expectations out of your head—and onto paper

“When you work by yourself, you don’t realize how much is inside your head,” continues Erin. “Our foundation didn’t have written documentation, aside from grant materials; that’s a task for 2015. When I was sharing information with our new hire, there wasn’t anything I could point her to.” Echoes Jack Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Carl Gellert and Celia Berta Gellert Foundation, “It can be tedious to document procedures the first time around, but these documents are critical to have in place.”

Continue reading

Assessing Yourself From All Sides

By Katie Everett, The Lynch Foundation

Five years ago, I participated in an assessment called The Leadership Circle Profile.

Different from traditional competency-based approaches to assessment, it is a 360-degree assessment designed to accelerate your leadership and help you understand the relationship between how you habitually think and behave—and how all this impacts your current effectiveness as a leader.

Working as the executive director of a small foundation can be lonely and isolating. I found it very difficult to get authentic feedback from my grantees, and often it was difficult to engage the foundation’s trustees in meaningful performance reviews due to time constraints. In addition, having worked with this board for more than 10 years, both the philanthropy and my relationships have become very personal. All made the annual review process challenging.

When I found The Leadership Circle and learned that all my trustees could participate in an online survey, answering  more than 100 questions but taking less than 20 minutes of their time, I knew I had discovered something wonderful. Then I learned that all the answers were anonymous, meaning I could get my grantees to participate in a genuine process too.

Continue reading