January 28, 2015

  1. What if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had just marched up to the pulpit of his upper middle class church — and stayed there, instead of marching into the center of the Civil Rights Movement?
  2. What if Rosa Parks had not had access to training in civil disobedience and community leadership?
  3. What if Ghandi had spent his years running a British law firm?
  4. What if Harriet Tubman had opted to never go back South to free others?
  5. What if President Barack Obama had not been trained as a community organizing and had instead joined Ghandi and Partners global law firm?
  6. What if the young people in Fergeson, MO had not kept marching—despite being slandered as dangerous rioters?
  7. Of course, despite our infatuation with charismatic leaders, social change does not come about just because of high-profile “heroes”.
  8. What if those millions of unnamed individuals hadn’t been willing to follow them on mass marches, put their bodies on the line in civil disobedience, followed-up on policy changes?
  9. What if all those quiet, less recognized mentors—like Bayard Rustin, who laid the groundwork for the March on Washington—had not been around to see the potential of our heroes? To train and educate them, lay the groundwork for their action, boost their confidence to lead?
  10. What if Margaret Mead’s “small group of people” never got together, never believed change was possible?
  11. How many thousands of potential social sector leaders walk among us today but go unseen?
  12. How many diverse activists on campuses and in communities are considering career options without knowing that they could find fulfillment and fulfill their potential through nonprofit careers?
  13. How about those working in low-paying service jobs or high-paying-and-soul-crushing professions who want to switch to meaningful, mission-driven careers?
  14. How many of Americans know that over 10 million people work in U.S. nonprofits—10% of the overall workforce, or the 3rd largest private industry in the economy? That they could join this powerful, skilled and mission-driven workforce to empower youth, teach kids, inform the public, help the environment, advance community health, or cultivate arts and culture? Do they know that they can become part of the long American tradition of civic life, the right to assemble, and freedom of speech?

These questions bring to mind four crucial points:

  • Leadership Matters. Individuals and small groups can have a massive impact on society. The unique contributions and challenges each of us bring to our organizations and causes are like our fingerprints – unique and attached to our individuality. The nonprofit sector needs to compete for the most passionate, skilled talent out there.
  • Leadership Needs Nurturing. All leaders benefit from mentors, teachers, training, books and ideas, and supporters all along the way. Just as we think our children are great and we still send them to college to mature and learn, great nonprofit leaders need opportunities to grow and develop.
  • Leadership Needs Investing at Scale. The need for leaders is great, and the potential leaders out there are too numerous to count. So we need a critical mass of investment from philanthropy, government and business to empower a critical mass of leaders to self-actualize.
  • Not Investing in Leaders Will Cost Us. Our world benefits tremendously from those who commit their careers and lives to social movements and nonprofit work. We will pay a dramatic “opportunity cost” for not investing in every new generation of talent.

As we reflect on leadership from the Civil Rights Movement to the #BlackLivesMatter moment, Talent Philanthropy will keep the pressure on foundations, donors, government and business to invest in leadership and professional development in the nonprofit workforce.

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