Seeking to improve the leadership skills at nonprofits around the world, the American Express Foundation is starting an ambitious new digital effort to train aspiring charity executives.
On Wednesday, the corporate grant maker — jointly with the Presidio Institute — is set to launch Leaderosity, a website that builds on a decade’s worth of work to offer professional development for ambitious, often young nonprofit staff members.
Tim McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation, said the site will serve as a centralized, one-stop location for a diverse range of courses created by professional development service providers and, eventually, academic institutions. Costs per course range from free to a few thousand dollars.
One goal is to encourage "organizations to create programs that are relevant to this constituency," Mr. McClimon said. "Harvard Business School — yeah, they have a lot of great courses, but they don't have any courses that are designed for emerging leaders in the nonprofit sector. Should they? Yeah."
The Presidio Institute, which is operating the site, and the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, which provides certified work-force development training, are creating the inaugural round of courses. The first is a four-week intensive class for early-career professionals.
"We are thrilled to announce the launch of Leaderosity with this generous gift from American Express," David Smith, managing director of the Presidio Institute, which trains nonprofit leaders, said in a statement. "American Express has been a visionary supporter of social impact leadership for many years."
The online approach offers a degree of flexibility impossible in a brick-and-mortar setting, according to officials. Students can move through courses at their own pace, logging in at times convenient for them. But the idea is not to keep students isolated; they will also interact with peers through the coursework.
American Express made two grants totaling $1 million to get Leaderosity off the ground. Other grants came from the Kresge Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Eventually the site is meant to be self-sustaining. Mr. McClimon declined to name a specific date for when that will occur.
In three years, he and his colleagues want to see as many as 40 courses in several languages available on Leaderosity, Mr. McClimon said.
American Express has supported nonprofit professional development for a decade. The work is rooted, in part, in a widely circulated 2006 report from Bridgespan that predicted a leadership gap in the nonprofit world. It prompted the corporate grant maker to make millions of dollars in grants for leadership development at nonprofit groups and professional development service providers.
In 2008, it started the American Express Nonprofit Leadership Academy, in which two dozen nonprofit officials were brought to its New York offices for a week of advice and training from the company’s leaders. The academy has expanded quickly since then. Today, the foundation hosts 72 participants twice a year in New York, Mr. McClimon said. And it hosts academies in eight other countries.
American Express also helps support Independent Sector's NGen program, a year of professional development and training for aspiring nonprofit leaders.
"We feel that nonprofit organizations, unlike for profits, have not put the money or the resources or the time into developing leaders within their organizations or within their parts of the sector," Mr. McClimon said.
What American Express has tried to do is accelerate those investments, he said, encouraging "organizations to do this for themselves, for their networks, and for the sector as a whole."
White House Meeting
The concept for a site to offer leadership training to nonprofits was born out of a 2011 forum on nonprofit leadership hosted by the White House, Mr. McClimon said. Additionally, American Express was hearing from people who had attended other professional-development programs that they needed additional work and resources. While American Express’s program has reached about 16,000 people, it is still the tip of the iceberg given the millions of charitable organizations around the world, Mr. McClimon said.
"I was looking for a way to scale what we were doing," he said. "The only way you could scale significantly is to go online. You don't want to give up on-site, face-to-face things, but we wanted to add to that."