Ready: Invest! Set: Customize! Go: Impact!

What would it take to create a core of exceptional leaders equipped with the tools and capacity to be effective change agents, networked to maximize the reverberation of their leadership and committed to doing so for their entire lives?

At the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, this question is at the core of our mission to empower young people to make a positive impact in their communities. In all of our focus areas, we create and support initiatives that invest in strengthening the leadership potential of individuals, as we believe the key to solving our most intractable societal issues lies in the strength of the leaders that spearhead such changes.

There is strong evidence of the positive return on investing in nonprofit leaders. At its most basic level, organizations led by stronger leaders are more effective at driving social change and influencing public policy. Those impacts, and the positive financial return on these investments, are a result of the greater employee engagement, stronger retention and enhanced performance toward advancing an organization’s mission associated with investment in talent development.

And yet, despite the benefits, leadership development remains surprisingly under-funded in the not-for-profit world. According to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, less than one percent of the philanthropic sector’s grant dollars go toward developing and supporting leadership development initiatives. The corporate sector invests four times as much per employee as the not-for-profit sector in leadership development. In fact, venture capitalists typically require the CEOs of the companies they invest in to undergo coaching or other development.

We strongly believe that only when philanthropic organizations follow suit and regard talent development as a core funding priority will we improve the quality of organizations we support, attract stronger talent and ultimately advance the fields and sectors critical to our missions.

That is why, over the past few years, our foundation has developed a more robust approach to transforming how the Jewish communal sector, in particular, invests in professional and volunteer leadership. We have built a suite of diverse experiences—including peer-led gatherings, immersive trainings, micro grants and more—and enable emerging Jewish leaders to select and/or apply the opportunities that best meet their interests and professional needs. You can read more about our approach here.

The most recent addition to our leadership development portfolio is the Schusterman Fellowship, an 18-month pilot program for 24 emerging leaders who are on the cusp of taking on the most senior roles in Jewish communities around the world. These dynamic individuals hail from across the U.S., Europe, Israel and Australia and have 
 already demonstrated extraordinary successes as professional and volunteer leaders. From social entrepreneurs and directors of operations, to educators, military officers and media strategists, the Schusterman Fellows consist of a rich and diverse mix of participants who span wide-ranging professional sectors.

 This Fellowship follows the 70/20/10 training model advocated by the Bridgespan Group as the ideal formula for adult professional learning: 70 percent time on on-the-job learning and stretch assignments, 20 percent time with formal and informal coaching and 10 percent time in formal training.

And so, following an extensive nomination and application process, our chosen Fellows are set to embark on a journey tailor-made to address their individual strengths and growth areas. Each Fellow will receive a personalized leadership assessment, work closely with a certified executive coach to create a customized leadership development plan and receive a stipend to participate in experiences through existing high-caliber leadership-advancement program providers to reach the goals outlined in that plan.

We will gather the Fellows three times over 18-months, providing structured training, exposure to key leaders and the seeds of a strategic network they can leverage during and long after the Fellowship as they work toward leading transformational change in their organizations and their communities.

Finally, during the program, each Fellow will create and begin to implement a plan to address a pressing challenge in his or her organization. This stretch assignment will push Fellows to focus on developing their personal leadership skills while also making a tangible organizational impact.

When the program is complete, we expect Fellows will demonstrate increased acumen at critical leadership competencies and skills; continue to contribute to and gain from a strategic network of high-caliber leaders working toward organizational and societal change; assume increased leadership responsibility and inspire others to take action in more powerful, scalable and impactful ways.

Moreover, we expect all fellows will make a lifelong commitment to serving the Jewish community in any capacity they choose. This could be as a professional or a volunteer, on a national stage or in their local communities. And while the nature of that commitment may change over time, it is a commitment for the long term.

Finally, in addition to tracking Fellows’ individual progress on these outcomes throughout the duration of the program, we will also look at and assess the impact they have on the organizations and communities in which they live and work.

The Schusterman Fellowship is part of Schusterman’s broader efforts to work in partnership with other organizations and foundations to jumpstart a virtuous cycle in which great leaders shape great organizations that, in turn, attract continually stronger talent. In doing so, we believe these leaders will forge a strong ecosystem that is central to one of our core goals: to grow the number of people actively engaging in Jewish life and drawing on Jewish values to create a positive impact on the broader world.

While our approach has largely been developed within the Jewish communal sector, we believe it is broadly applicable to leadership development work across diverse fields and sectors because it responds to a universal need for exceptional leaders prepared to succeed.

We also believe foundations that share our commitment to seeding maximum positive impact on the world would be wise to consider how they can make leadership development a core funding priority.

Indeed, we must recognize that our futures as financial executors of social change rely on finding and recruiting exceptional people to commit to and engage in this work, helping them grow in their ability to lead it, and building and contributing to environments that retain the best professionals and volunteers for generations to come.