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Leading for Impact—Atlanta

A collaboration between The Bridgespan Group and the
Georgia Center for Nonprofits to accelerate social impact

Overview of customized projects

The two-year Leading for ImpactAtlanta program allows nonprofit CEOs and their executive teams to apply what they’ve learned in strategy and organizational skills directly through the completion of two customized, team-led projects. These projects will be selected and accomplished by the executive teams, with implementation support from The Bridgespan Group, which is a leading consultancy to the nonprofit sector.

Support provided to project teams

The hallmarks of the six-month projects include:

  • Applied learning: These projects will build on concepts introduced during class workshops, and will be completed with hands-on assistance in the steps necessary to apply those concepts within each organization’s unique context.

  • Support and coaching: A Bridgespan facilitator will provide coaching and feedback—along with tools, guides, templates and examples—to each team throughout the program. Following each six-month project, Bridgespan will provide an additional six months of implementation support, totaling two full years of consulting services.

Project topics

The projects will address strategy, organizational development or leadership development issues. Again, selection is entirely up to participating nonprofits and the two projects completed during the course of the program could be in the same topical category.

See below for more detail on each topical category, and for examples of projects completed by past Leading for Impact participants.

Read about a past
participant's strategic
clarity project
Read about a past
participant's organizational
effectiveness project.
Read about a past
participant's developing
future leaders project.


Past participant example: STRATEGIC CLARITY

The John Howard Society of Hamilton, Burlington & Area (JHS) works with individuals who are either already involved in or at high risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system and provides 25-plus programs on an annual budget of approximately $2 million. Before beginning their strategic clarity project in 2012, JHS wanted to better understand how to prioritize investments in their wide range of services to better respond to increased demand. In particular, the executive team, who had been thinking about using advocacy as a way to advance its mission, was uncertain about which focus to pursue.

Going into the project, JHS used very general descriptions to explain its services and clients. The beneficiaries served were “youth, adults, families and seniors, male and female” who were “involved in, at risk of involvement in, or part of the family of someone involved in the justice system.” Desired outcomes were “to make positive and long-lasting life changes.” Within the first weeks of the project, the JHS team realized that these descriptors were not specific enough to allow them to make choices about where to invest and grow and what to de-prioritize.

The first step that JHS took was to analyze their historical program outcomes at a detailed level. Bridgespan also encouraged JHS to segment its clients by level of risk, rather than by age or gender, and to review historical outcomes based on that risk profile. This analysis showed that the risk profile of an entering client was a powerful predictor of the outcome achieved and that some programs were achieving more consistent and more meaningful results than others.

JHS also conducted a comprehensive review of the research in their field, reading academic studies, talking with peer organizations, and interviewing experts. This review confirmed the wisdom of segmenting their desired outcomes based on risk profiles and also highlighted specific roles that advocacy could play in achieving their objectives.

By the time the project concluded in the spring of 2013, JHS had developed a theory of change that showed different desired outcomes for those with different risk profiles and linked specific programs to different segments. Specific outcomes achieved as a result of this project included:

  • Decision about advocacy focus: After reviewing the logical roles that advocacy could play, the JHS team realized that these were not among their highest-priority objectives, so the team decided not to pursue advocacy in the short term.

  • Embarking on program realignment: Additional clarity on the outcome objectives for each program along with a review of their past outcomes led the team to conclude that work was needed to realign their programs and better serve the highest-risk individuals. Over the next year, the team will undertake a comprehensive review to determine the specific changes needed to reach their newly-clarified objectives.

  • Preparing for future funding changes: While JHS’s funding was currently stable, the government agencies that provided the majority of their revenue were hinting at possible future cuts. With greater clarity around how specific sets of activities lead to the specific outcomes, and with research in hand to justify certain aspects of their service delivery and cost structure, JHS felt better prepared to enter into funding discussions.

  • Communicating to outside audiences: With a new visual diagram that showed their theory of change and a one-page overview of the client segments, key outcomes, and activities for each, JHS had the long-desired communications tools to talk with outside audiences about its work.

Read the full case study presentation.



Generation Citizen is a citizenship organization that operates three sites under a single 501(c)(3) umbrella. Each year, Generation Citizen sets goals for growing the number of youth served, adding services and setting the budgets and staffing per site, to support that growth. Without a clear process for arriving at these goals, however, tension grew between the national office and the three sites, resulting in a lack of clarity and cohesion. With plans to add a fourth site in the coming year, Generation Citizen wanted to streamline decisions about growth and strategy and clarify the level of autonomy individual sites had about their growth goals and budget.

The Generation Citizen team embarked on an LFI project focused on clarifying organizational roles and decision making. As a first step in the project, the team conducted interviews with staff to get their perspectives on the issues and to hone in on the particular decisions and topics where clarity was needed. The team determined which specific decisions to focus on, prioritizing those that were the biggest “pain points” throughout the organization. Next, the team interviewed a select set of peer organizations with similar structures to get a sense of how others had navigated this set of challenges.

Using a Bridgespan decision-making framework, the team drafted a set of roles and responsibilities associated with the decisions under investigation. These drafts were used as the basis for a series of conversations with staff at all levels. The conversations were carefully crafted as both a way of vetting the draft roles and as an important step in leading organizational and cultural change. After several revisions and additional communication, the new set of roles and responsibilities was introduced to all staff, along with an implementation plan that detailed the new processes and communication structures needed to support these roles.

The project allowed Generation Citizen to develop a clear process and roles for annual budgeting and growth targets, while also providing a road map for how additional decisions could be streamlined and clarified. Specific outcomes include:

  • Growth targets set: By using this process as a template for the future, Generation Citizen was not only able to define clear roles and responsibilities going forward but also to set agreed-upon growth targets and budgets for the coming year.

  • Defined reporting relationships: As they investigated the root causes of their decision-making problems, site leaders realized that it was not clear who on the national team they should turn to for different issues. The team used this process to clarify reporting relationships for national-site issues.

  • Clarified programmatic boundaries: One of the areas where disconnects were emerging was around the degree of flexibility that each site had for adjusting their program to meet local needs. The Generation Citizen team used this process to help clarify which programmatic elements must remain fixed and where programmatic flexibility would be encouraged.

Read the full case study presentation.


Past participant example: DEVELOPING FUTURE LEADERS

Youth Org* provides programs in youth development and child welfare throughout Chicago and has annual revenues of approximately $70 million. In late 2012 it completed a strategic plan and embarked on a project to develop future leaders, so it could ensure that the right leaders would be in place to achieve its strategy. In early 2013, Youth Org undertook a project to improve how they identify and develop future leaders.

Youth Org followed a four-stage process to put in place and execute a new set of talent management processes. During the diagnostic stage, Youth Org used a Bridgespan diagnostic tool to gather input from 62 of its managers on its current leadership development performance across five core processes. While its average score of 2.93 was significantly higher than the average of 2.53 in Bridgespan’s database, Youth Org did identify several important areas for improvement. 

The next phase focused on determining the future leadership requirements Youth Org would need to achieve its strategy and identifying new leadership competencies to incorporate in its assessment process. In the third phase, Youth Org conducted assessments of approximately 50 managers against required competencies and identified development needs for upcoming discussions with each individual. Finally, during the fourth stage, the team mapped out concrete goals (both short-term and longer-term) for its future leadership development efforts and the specific initiatives to achieve these.

This project enabled Youth Org to put in place and begin to use new talent-development processes for future leadership development. In doing so, it helped the senior leadership team of 10 individuals improve their capabilities to develop their direct reports. Specific outcomes from the project include:

  • Identifying future leadership needs: Reviewing its strategic plan, Youth Org identified new, required positions capabilities (e.g., communication manager for branding and marketing), as well as future capabilities required of all managers (e.g., community organizing skills). These capabilities were translated into competencies to include in the assessment process of the top tiers of management. 

  • Assessing and identifying development needs: The CEO and senior leaders assessed their direct reports (50 individuals) against the updated criteria, using a new tool to consider both demonstrated performance and leadership potential. For the first time as a group, the leadership team met for a day to review and calibrate their assessment and to identify development needs for each individual. 

  • Individual development planning: Following the process, senior leaders began meeting with their direct reports to share their assessment, discuss development needs, and identify actions to address these needs through mentoring, formal, and job-related training. These discussions will enable the leadership team to identify common development needs for their staff. 

  • Organizational development goals and initiatives: The senior leadership team identified four short-to-medium term, organization-wide goals and the initiatives to achieve these goals. The goals included both process improvements (e.g., cascading the process down to the next management tiers and building new tools) and outcomes (e.g., staff satisfaction and retention, increased ability to fill future positions internally, and creation of a development culture). 

  • Succession and organization planning: The CEO and a few senior leaders used the input collected throughout the process to update succession plans and plan a reorganization for parts of the organization to align with planned retirements. The development potential of future leaders was used as an input to create the future organization.  

*Organization name and other identifying details have been changed to protect privacy