Foundation Friday: L’Esprit de l’escalier*

Months after the fact, the Nonprofiteer feels moved to note that she approves of the Ford Foundation’s choice of a new chief executive.  (Hear those sighs of relief from New York?)  This isn’t because she subscribes to the notion that nonprofits should operate like businesses, and thus that business people are the only suitable leaders of nonprofits.  It’s because Ford’s new CEO comes from McKinsey & Company, perhaps the world’s premiere consulting firm, and the Nonprofiteer has high hopes for any term of leadership apt to begin like a consultancy, with the [you should pardon the expression] foundational questions: What are we trying to do, and for whom?  Is that the appropriate goal?  What’s in the way of our achieving it?   

At their/our best, management consultants are exceptionally willing to ask what might sound like stupid questions, and exceptionally unlikely to be captives of received wisdom.  Meanwhile, the foundation community is exceptionally susceptible to the fear of looking foolish and to the thrall of the-way-we’ve-always-done-it.  When the twain meet, there are likely to be fireworks–and the Nonprofiteer looks forward to the illumination therefrom.

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*Literally, "the spirit of the staircase;" the French expression for the brilliant comment you think of long after your interlocutor (and everyone else) has ceased to care.   

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2 Responses to “Foundation Friday: L’Esprit de l’escalier*”

  1. Albert Says:

    I hear you, Nonprofiteer, but I worry about the aversion of some MBAs to outcomes that can’t be easily measured. Consider, for example, the networks of people necessary to sustain a social movement; their leadership qualities and the quality of their interactions; etc. What will be the Ford Foundation’s tolerance for ambiguity? or its zeal for social justice?

  2. Nonprofiteer Says:

    What has been the Foundation’s tolerance for ambiguity or zeal for justice heretofore? And I may be less blithe than you about foundations as long-term homes for “networks of people necessary to sustain a social movement”–most foundations have too short an attention span for such institution-building. The best we can hope for (generally) is for foundations to recognize good work being done by others, identify where that good work intersects with the foundation’s own purposes, and fork over money to make more of that good work possible. I guess I’m one of those operating-charity cynics who wants less partnership and more resources from the foundations whose paths I cross.

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