In 2014, Pat Wyzbinski undertook her final major assignment for the Nonprofit Management Fund. Her job was to chronicle the first 20 years of the Fund, beginning with its 1994 launch. This blog, comprising insights from how to best spend $100,000 on capacity building to reasons for declining a proposal, was a vehicle for her to document her thoughts while she led the compilation of the Fund’s history. Some entries were met with praise, and others sparked some controversy. This blog is a resource that can provide anyone in the nonprofit sphere with an insight into Pat's way of thinking.


From classes and conferences to fellowships and sabbaticals...opportunities for growth abound.

In 2012, the Fund began to identify gaps in our leadership program offerings, and in order to do so we needed to understand the current roster of available opportunities. It was relatively easy for the funding partners to list 22 leadership development programs, but were there others that we forgot or didn’t know existed? With a small grant, we enticed the Planning Council for Health and Human Services to inventory leadership programs targeting nonprofit executives and managers in the greater Milwaukee area.

Little did we know—that’s for sure. Our list of 22 entries was very short, compared to the 68 programs profiled in the inventory. Since then, 2 additional programs surfaced.

Milwaukee is fortunate to have 70 professional development programs for local nonprofit leaders however, there is no directory of all of these programs. Certainly, an online, searchable database with available courses, conferences, classes, degree programs, and training opportunities would be helpful. The directory could be the starting point to enable an executive to design a custom program for each staff member. If an “Angie’s List” format followed, the customer satisfaction aspect could really inform the decision to invest or not in a program.

From the Black Women’s Network to BoardStar, from the Executive Director’s Academy to the Institute for Conservation Leadership, from the Kiwanis to the Rotarians, and from Public Allies to Teach for America, we seem to have the gamut of leadership development possibilities covered.

Or, do we?

The final page of the narrative that accompanied the inventory for Fund committee members was perhaps the most interesting. This page questioned what was found and what was missing. For example:

     1. Who is actually being reached by these programs?

                 3. Should leadership development for the nonprofit sector be  more concerned with creating a critical mass of people with leadership skills, or would it be more effective to support a few leaders who are catalysts and champions?

     6. What is the goal of nonprofit leadership development? Is it to give individuals leadership skills; is it to increase organizational performance; or, is it to create a better community?

If there are so many opportunities to enhance

a nonprofit executive’s ability to lead

…why does it seem that we have too few leaders?


At the same time that the Planning Council was identifying current programs, we encouraged the Center for Urban Initiatives and Research at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee to provide an overview of national trends in professional leadership development for nonprofit executives, and to suggest programs that could add value to those that already existed in Milwaukee.

At the Fund, we were focusing on programs that developed skills in individuals, yet, we were simultaneously interested in building the capacity of local organizations, and ultimately desired to strengthen our communities.

The types of leadership programs that are most frequently employed around the country are: sabbatical, executive coaching, mentoring, conferences, fellowships, academic programs, workshops, and peer learning circles. While there may be benefits and drawbacks to each type of activity, some principles or concepts are generally accepted. Successful program characteristics include:

  • Opportunities need to allow executives to rejuvenate, recharge, and reflect.
  • Experiential components are vital complements to training or education.
  • Compensation for learning is appreciated; fees or expenses covered by the employer are expected.
  • Expansion of participants’ networks and contacts is crucial.


Professional growth plans should engage a variety of tools and techniques, and they should first focus on affirming strengths before addressing areas for improvement.

If  “national trends in nonprofit leadership development are driven by a concern for ensuring an adequate pipeline of new talent, for making executive transitions smooth, and for taking full advantage of opportunities to boost nonprofit performance”, then what do we want for our Milwaukee leaders? The same!  Leadership development is a process, not a singular activity. We need integrated approaches, not program silos, to ensure the most effective outcome of successful leaders, and “Leadership development is most successful when it is supported by organizational leadership and tied to organizational strategies.”

What could we do in Milwaukee to develop leaders and enhance nonprofit performance?

Stay tuned for my next episode!

2 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Kathy Gale | June 23, 2014 at 07:48 PM EDT

I appreciate your insight on this important topic. With NPM Fund grants I benefited from Executive Coachimg during the integration phase of a merger, received a scholarship to attend the national Board Source conference for the first time, and sent key staff members for training in supervisory skills. The educational opportunities opened my eyes to trends and practices that I could integrate in our agency. Success over time, traced back to these leadership development opportunities, provides the evidence for my board and I to keep leadership development as a priority each year.

The variety of approaches is key, as leaders are in various points in their careers, and most often are adding leadership development to an already full calendar. Sometimes the one and done comference or webinar is perfect, while other times the semester-long class is important to allow for depth in learning.

2. Denise Patton | June 27, 2014 at 04:04 PM EDT

I find the topic quite timely. Our nonprofit community continues to experience weak leadership. We have many nonprofit organizations, offering valuable services and programs, but that just survive and not thrive because the executive leadership and/or the Board is lacking critical skills and characteristics needed to thrive. In my work over the past decade I have witnessed executives who have the heart for leading but not the skill or support to go beyond basic day to day operation, just keeping the organization afloat. In these cases, the executive cannot afford to pay for training, development or coaching. What do they do? I have witnessed organizations with potential to grow but an executive in place coming from the program staff role without onboarding support to the executive role. And yet, these executives are evaluated negatively as if they had all the skills to carry out their role in leadership. Not fair. So, I think we should continue examining what we can do in the Milwaukee community of nonprofit leadership development.

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