The Soft Stuff Doesn’t Have to be Hard: Foundation Investments in Grantee Workers are Necessary, Valuable, and Measurable

This 2022 journal article offers framing, data points, and analysis of a dozen foundation-commissioned evaluations that examine the value created when funders invest in leadership development and other staff support and development systems for nonprofits. It uses research by Fund the People, was written by Rusty Stahl, and published in The Foundation Review, a peer-review journal written by and for funders and evaluators.

There is an emerging body of evidence that talent-investing can produce value for nonprofits, the communities they serve, and the funders who support them. Here we offer a curated collection of evaluative reports that have been commissioned by funders to assess their interventions to strengthen staff development in grantee institutions and the wider nonprofit workforce. These studies offer powerful data that show how intentional talent-investments by funders can yield significant advancements in organizational performance, program impact, and institutional sustainability.

Here are links to a sampling of the evaluation reports discussed in the article:

Five-Year Evaluation of the Flexible Leadership Awards (For more related content, check out our Field Story about Haas Jr. Fund )
By Bill Ryan / Commissioned by Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector
By Deborah Linnell and Tim Wolfred / commissioned by Alston-Bannerman Fellowship, Barr Foundation, Durfee Foundation, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, and Rasmuson Foundation

From Creative Disruption to Systems Change: A 20-Year Retrospective on the Durfee Foundation Sabbatical Program
By Deborah Linnell, Liz Russell, and Kim Dam / commissioned by Durfee Foundation

The Pathway to Leadership: Lessons from Clinic Leadership Institute
By BTW informing change / commissioned by Blue Shield of California Foundation

Preparing the Clinic Leaders of Tomorrow
By BTW informing change / commissioned by Blue Shield of California Foundation

Brief Assessment of The Irvine Foundation’s Fund for Leadership Advancement
By Harder + Company / commissioned by The Irvine Foundation

Creating Broader Impact: The Bush Foundation Fellowships – How Individuals Contribute to the Strength of Communities, Institutions and Fields
By Susan Showalter and Vicki Itzkowitz / commissioned by Bush Foundation

Strengthening Leadership and Advocacy in Population and Reproductive Health
Institute for International Education (IIE) / commissioned by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


If you know of additional evaluation reports or data sources that might be appropriate to add to this compilation, please let us know.