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Funders Forum

Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation

July 2011

Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation identifies and invests in visionary leaders and effective community-based nonprofit organizations working to create lasting improvements in the lives of low-income people in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region, and works to strengthen the region's nonprofit sector as a vital and respected partner in meeting community needs. The Meyer Foundation recently partnered with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services to produce Daring to Lead 2011, a national study of more than 3,000 nonprofit executive directors. The Foundation Center asked Meyer Foundation President and CEO Julie L. Rogers:

Question How is Daring to Lead 2011 central to your strategy as a mid-sized foundation with a regional focus, and what can other grantmakers learn from the study?

Answer We believe that strong leadership is critical to organizational effectiveness. In our region, as in other parts of the country, we have extraordinary nonprofit leaders who are also under incredible pressure — spread thin and pulled in many directions, many of them raising every dollar from scratch every year, and often with little visibility or recognition. As the Baby Boom generation begins to retire, sustaining the great leaders we already have and finding and supporting new leaders has never been more important. We're concerned about the leadership sustainability of the foundation's grantees, and our research helps us better understand the factors that contribute to burnout and unnecessary turnover. We could have limited this research to our region, but nonprofit leaders everywhere face the same challenges. Supporting and sustaining nonprofit leaders is an issue of national importance for all grantmakers and the organizations they fund.

We hope the study gives grantmakers in other communities a tool for starting community-wide conversations about the importance of effective leadership, the obstacles executive directors face, and the critical role of nonprofit leaders working in partnership with business and government to solve problems and address community needs. As this is the third Daring to Lead study in 10 years, we also hope that sustained attention to the importance of strong executive leadership and the challenges inherent in the executive director role will help other grantmakers recognize that creating a more supportive environment for executives is not a three-year or even a five-year project. The way nonprofit organizations are currently financed has led to chronic undercapitalization, and that lack of financial resources takes a toll on leaders. Changing these dynamics will take time — but we have to start having that conversation. The study also highlights the critical role of nonprofit boards and areas in which board performance needs to improve. I'm not sure foundations have done all they can to help strengthen nonprofit boards, but our hope is that this study will help to spark more productive efforts in that arena.

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