Janet Hirst, Chief Executive Officer, The Ian Potter Foundation asks if enough attention has been paid to the important question of human resources and mentoring people in the sector to develop their leadership qualities.

In 2013, I was one of 20 leaders from philanthropic foundations around the world invited to attend a symposium at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio, Italy, to discuss ‘Talent Management for Innovative and Impactful Philanthropy in the 21st Century’. The question was posed: if global philanthropy is to prosper and achieve great things in the future, does the sector need to dramatically change the way it views, deploys and invests in people, talent and leadership?

In Australia, there is no doubt that the sector has grown in size and sophistication in the past decade. The increasing professionalism in philanthropy reflects the contribution of leaders who have the vision, the wherewithal and the resources to drive and direct its unique role in bringing about positive change. But has enough attention been paid to the important question of human resources and mentoring people in the sector to develop their leadership qualities?Generosity_Janet-Hirst-Rockefeller-conference-Bellagio

Internationally, a great example of the value of leadership development is the decision by the Ford Foundation to appoint Samantha Gilbert (who ran the Rockefeller Symposium), as the Foundation’s new Vice President, Talent and Human Resources, reporting to Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation. He stated that “….her participation at the foundation’s decision-making leadership table will ensure that motivating and inspiring our staff to do great work becomes central to our culture”.

This is at the heart of why strong, passionate and decisive leadership is so important in philanthropy. The impact of our work comes down to who and what we give to. Doing this well requires an ability to look at the big picture, to bring people and organisations together and take a long-term view. This takes leadership and motivated, focused staff who also aspire to play their part in creating positive outcomes.

As a sector we need to recognise the specific qualities and skills needed to be effective in philanthropy, and to value, attract and nurture talent.

We need to recruit from a broad base and ensure that the sector is injected with ideas, know-how and nous that’s in-step with other sectors. A number of programs such as the Visiting Scholars Program at QUT’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non Profit Studies, and Philanthropy Australia’s Mentoring program for grants managers, are good examples of the types of programs we need to give aspiring philanthropic leaders in relation to the support and inspiration they need to achieve their potential, and to ensure the sector continues to grow in every respect.


Janet Hirst is Chief Executive Officer of  The Ian Potter Foundation and The George Alexander Foundation.

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