Leadership in Social Change Rusty Stahl

Rusty Stahl’s Radical Vision for a Transformed Nonprofit Workforce

About This Episode

The typical nonprofit playbook includes a scenario where an organization has constrained resources and overworked staff, with limited access to professional development opportunities. Rusty Stahl, CEO and Founder of Fund the People, is advocating for something radically different. In this episode of Social Change Diaries, Rusty makes the case for an industry wide overhaul of how we invest in the nonprofit workforce.

About Rusty Stahl

Rusty Stahl founded Fund the People in 2014 and serves as its President & CEO. Fund the People is the national campaign to maximize foundation investment in the nonprofit workforce. Immediately prior to Fund the People, Rusty was a Visiting Fellow in Residence at the Research Center for Leadership in Action at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. During 2002 to 2012, Rusty served as founding Executive Director of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP), the network of young and new foundation professionals. Rusty began his career in an apprenticeship at the Ford Foundation, where he focused on grantmaking to strengthen the nonprofit sector and philanthropy. Stahl has served on several boards, including Idealist.org and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. He holds a masters in Philanthropic Studies from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and received his bachelors degree from George Washington University in Washington, DC. Rusty was born and raised in Philadelphia. He now lives with his wife, Sarah From (a coach and organizational development consultant to nonprofits) and their toddler daughter in the City of Beacon, NY.

In his words…

“Folks who are on non-profit boards, their job is to hire, manage, and fire the executive director. So if they can see their role as not only hiring, managing, and firing, but investing in that person and sustaining that person and growing that person— that is a shift. Not only that, if they can see their role as giving a mandate to that executive director to say, ‘it is part of your job to grow and invest in the staff who report to you and we want to hold you accountable for that. And we want to see goals around that, and we want to see your time and skills going into that, and we want to see managers spending time really investing in the people who directly report to them— we want this to be part of the culture of our organization. That is part of your mandate as the executive director.’ I think that could start to make a difference.”

“I think if nothing changes, nothing shifts, we’ll continue to see zero to 2% of non-profit budgets invested in professional development. We’ll continue to see less than 1% of foundation grant dollars invested in staff development for grantees. And as a result, we’ll continue to see unhealthy burnout and turnover in many non-profits. We’ll see that diverse people, people of color, low income people and others unable to maintain meaningful social change careers over a lifetime. And all of that will hurt the performance and impact of non-profits, and they won’t, unfortunately, achieve the level of change that they want to and need to.”

“Funders saying, ‘if you’re not able to pay a living wage or you’re not able to offer these benefits, or you’re understaffed and some of your existing staff are overworked— how can we help you with some of these grant dollars to address those issues?’ That’s enabling non-profits to talk to their funders about those issues in a way that’s productive, not scary and that helps them meet those needs.”

Questions Answered on this Episode

  • Through Fund the People, you are advocating for a radically new approach to how the nonprofit functions. Tell me about your work and how you arrived here (to the conclusion that something needs to change)? What shifts in the sector, and in the world, if nothing changes?
  • Looking at your background, it appears that the theme of leadership is woven through all of the roles you’ve occupied. Focusing on your work as the Founding Executive Director of EPIP (Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy), what was the tone of emerging foundation professionals around developing their own leadership and what they wanted as leaders? What was the environment like in the foundation community for emerging leaders? Do you think any of that is different now in 2018?
  • Most philanthropic institutions are focused on putting their dollars into solutions around solving social issues. What needs to happen for funders to invest in their grantees’ workforce?
  • What has been the response in conversations around the need for supporting the nonprofit workforce?
  • This season of the Social Change Diaries is about leadership. How has your leadership evolved through your work with Fund The People?
  • One of the challenges or shortcomings of the sector that keeps coming up in my conversations on the podcast is how we are supporting women and people of color. In your work, are you finding these conversations more challenging as you are advocating for support of the nonprofit workforce?
  • I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector in this trusted advisor role for 15 years now and one of the things that has been consistent and painful to watch is this idea of scarcity and sacrifice. People don’t feel like they’re doing their jobs in the sector unless they can claim this in some way. In addition to shifting the culture in philanthropy so that there is more support, how do we shift the culture and mindset of the very people the Fund is advocating for?