Grantee Spotlight: Statewide Capacity Collaborative identifies barriers to engaging in leadership development opportunities.

Originally published on the SVP Seattle blog on April 28, 2016.

In partnership with CompassPoint, last month the Statewide Capacity Collaborative (SCC) released the Washington State Leadership Scan, a report that explores how funders, capacity building providers and nonprofits can best support and further develop the skills needed to lead the teams, organizations, and movements making positive changes in our region. Over the past few weeks various SCC funders have been exploring different topics highlighted in the scan and they’ve shared their thoughts through blog posts and social media here and here.

Building on the themes noted by our colleagues on the SCC, it’s necessary to highlight the barriers that exist for nonprofits, staff and community allies in building leadership capacity in order to inform how to increase the access and sustainability of leadership opportunities. SVP hopes to apply learning from the Leadership Scan to our work with individuals, nonprofits and collaboratives.

How leadership is defined: The term leadership is often used to describe executive level functions or individuals with formal, positional authority or titles. The scan reinforced that definition of leadership is often confused or conflated with management skills. However, many respondents expressed the need for leadership to be defined as more of a lived, community and cultural experience rather than just by formal education or positional title. We heard from individuals and capacity builders that leaders can exist anywhere in an organization, community or movement.

“When we talk about leadership, we think it’s the person that can speak the most, has charisma, and is on the frontline. But, really, there are more people that are not on the frontline, but are doing a lot of leadership development with other people, and they are doing a lot of work in the communities. I just think we need to acknowledge that. We need to acknowledge that sometimes we only see what is visible.”

For the purposes of the scan, leadership is defined as: the process of working with others in order to move forward an organizational or community vision and agenda. Leaders (who do and do not hold formal authority) deal with adaptive challenges, co-creating a vision, and aligning stakeholders including staff, board and community. They keep systems changing and adapting.

Access and inclusion: We heard from rural leaders and leaders of color that they are often left out when trainings fail to recognize their expertise and/or don’t acknowledge the specific issues facing the diverse communities they work in. For leaders in rural communities, too often trainings are not provided within reasonable distances, making opportunities to develop skills scarce and inaccessible. These trainings are often unsustainable due to real obstacles of cost, amount of staff time, distance, and lodging. Leaders of color added that while leadership programs do exist, they often lean toward the mainstream, lacking cultural competence and the inclusion of issues of race, power, and privilege that often come up.

“Leaders are seeking forums to talk about “cultures and historical traumas” …and how they affect being a leader and doing this sort of work. Many of the leadership programs just focus on this heroic leader structure that has been the mainstream model for such a long time. And they focus on things like how to do public speaking or how to run a meeting. No one is talking about how to work with elders or how to work after your community has gone through war and forced migration.”

Core operations vs leadership development: Across the state, in different communities, leaders indicated a forced choice between investing in core operations or leadership development. Staff capacity and costs associated with trainings limit engagement in leadership opportunities. Moreover, a lack of general operating funding that can go towards core organizational support and leadership development further accentuates the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle and leaves nonprofits without the time or capacity to send staff to trainings.

“Funding for capacity so that people have the time and ability to actually go and participate that’s one barrier. Funding so they can actually pay for either staffing support when they go or resources to invest in. That’s another potential barrier.”

We’ve long known that leadership development is essential to an organization’s success. Investing in nonprofit infrastructure must include resources set aside for leadership development. The SCC is aware that these changes will not occur overnight, shifting nonprofit culture to make leadership development an essential aspect of an organization along with changing approaches to capacity building and funding are critical to making sure a nonprofit can effectively adapt to the challenges they and their communities face.

We invite you to join us in discussing the implications of the Leadership Scan and shared solutions to some of the barriers we’ve identified. We’ll be hosting an overview and discussion of the scan with SVP Partners on June 2nd from 11:00am to 1:00pm at SVP and hope you’ll join us. For community allies and nonprofits, please join us for the workshop titled, Leadership: From Research to Action at the Washington Nonprofit Conference on May 17th. You can read the full report here at and please share it with your networks.

This blog post was written to coincide with the release of the Statewide Capacity Collaborative’s Leadership Scan report, researched and authored by CompassPoint. The SCC, of which Social Venture Partners – Seattle is a proud member, hopes the release of this report sparks a conversation in Washington around leadership development and the investments that can best support the capacity of nonprofits. Since 2010, SVP Seattle has convened and participated in the SCC. Learn more about our work with the SCC here.

Originally published on the SVP Seattle blog on April 28, 2016.