Few organizations understand the need for effective leadership development strategies as well as United Way of America. After an embezzlement scandal led to the conviction of its former president in 1995, the organization was left wondering how it could rebuild donor confidence and regain its dominant position within the nonprofit community.
At the same time, Internet charities and other new nonprofits were successfully campaigning for a larger percentage of donor dollars. United Way’s leaders saw these changes and knew they needed to adapt in order to survive.
“Change always brings new pressure on leadership, and the United Way was no different,” said Brook Manville, executive vice president of the United Way of America and director of the Center for Community Leadership, the corporate-style university for the United Way of America. “There were CEOs that came into the United Way of America who sort of stabilized things, but there was an increasing sense, even though the scandals were behind us, that United Way was kind of an old model that was no longer as relevant. The world of philanthropy was changing. Donors wanted more real results — they wanted their charitable gifts to be more relevant to the world they were living in.”
In 2000, the organization created the Task Force on Strengthening the United Way System in an attempt to respond to these changes. This team, which was composed of leaders from across the United Way system, was charged with proposing a new strategic direction and recommending changes to the organization’s operating processes and governing mechanisms.
It began this complicated process by defining a new mission “to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities.” That mission is the heart of today’s United Way of America. To communicate and explain this organizational change to the more than 1,300 locally governed United Way chapters, national leaders had to identify and train local leaders who would be able to spread the message at home.
“If the United Way system is going to transform, it takes the courage and leadership of people at the local level to make that change,” Manville said.
Yet, before United Way of America could spread its new vision and instill local leaders with the qualities they would need, the national organization had to define exactly what those goals and key leadership qualities were.
“Early on, it was seen that this new kind of work would in fact require a new kind of leadership,” Manville said. “So before long, the question came forward: What is the leadership model? What exactly does it mean?”
To answer these questions, the task force turned to the most successful leaders working in local United Way chapters: the people creating tangible results, increasing volunteer enthusiasm and raising donation totals.
Observing the skills and behaviors these individuals possessed helped United Way of America create a competency model it could use to develop training and assessment programs for leaders in the new system.
The competency model was based on four clusters of attributes: providing vision and leadership; developing impact strategies, resources and relationships; having demonstrable business acumen and possessing exemplary values and personal attributes.
“Armed with that competency model, we were then able to start to design leadership development programs that support the development of those kinds of skills, knowledge and behavior in other people who were aspiring to take bigger roles,” Manville said.
These leadership programs became the intellectual base of the Center for Community Leadership. Along with training and leadership development programs, the center is responsible for tasks such as conferences, sharing best practices and early-career, high-potential programs.
“It was a very bold vision because it was the notion of bringing together in one organization what was increasingly being called human capital management, and not just training and not just learning programs,” Manville said.
So far, he said the center is helping United Way of America meet its goal to empower communities and change people’s lives.
“The application of leadership and leadership development is literally making more community impact happen,” Manville said.
– Tegan Jones, email@example.comFiled under: Leadership Development