Nurturing mid-level talent in charitable foundations: a case study

  • Home
  • >
  • Analysis
  • >
  • Nurturing mid-level talent in charitable foundations: a case study

In the contemporary landscape of foundation management, talent is the lifeblood of an organization. Middle managers are the unsung heroes, providing the critical link between strategic decision-making and frontline execution. In the philanthropy sector, talent is even more critical, given its unique challenges and the necessity of ensuring that an organization’s mission continues effectively.

This article delves into an insightful interview with Rici Foundation’s secretary-general, Zhang Zhen, sharing experiences and expertise on developing mid-level management within the organization.

About Rici Foundation

Rici Foundation was officially established on Dec 31, 2013, by the Guangdong Provincial Civil Affairs Department. It is dedicated to enhancing the mental and emotional well-being of children and adolescents. Drawing from positive psychology and social-emotional theories, the foundation primarily focuses on project design, operations, and support that aligns with mental development and psychological support. Its goal is to explore and promote effective mental development education models, thereby improving the overall social environment for young people and helping every child to lead a healthy and happy life.

Essential skills for middle managers in foundations

In our conversation with Zhang Zhen, we first discussed the key skills and qualities necessary for effective middle managers within foundations. Zhang highlighted three essential traits.

Execution excellence: According to Zhang, exceptional execution skills are paramount. Mid-level managers must excel in their core responsibilities, demonstrating a clear understanding of their roles and a strong aptitude for planning. This proficiency is crucial for guiding their teams and setting an example for new team members.

Strategic thinking: The ability to think strategically and understand organizational decisions from a broad perspective is another key attribute. Middle managers should refrain from seeing decisions solely from a departmental view and instead consider the institution’s reasoning behind resource allocation. Effective communication both upwards and downwards in an organizational hierarchy is also emphasized.

Collaboration: Given the potential for cross-departmental collaboration and the existence of teams in different locations, strong internal cooperation skills are essential. Effective collaboration and communication within an organization are vital to achieving common goals.

Supporting the growth of mid-level talent

How does the Rici Foundation support the growth and development of middle managers, and what are the results of these strategies? Zhang revealed several crucial approaches.

Fostering motivation and purpose: Regular field visits and feedback from teachers, student volunteers, and children help maintain the motivation of the teams. The foundation emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the value of their work, rather than just articulating it, creating a sense of fulfilment among staff.

Professionalized management: Rici foundation has introduced a clear human resource management system, including motivating bonus and award structures. These structures provide insight into career progression and compensation, thus relieving employees’ financial pressures and reinforcing their sense of achievement.

Continuous learning opportunities: Working in a highly specialized field, research department staff must stay updated with the latest knowledge, methods, and technologies. The organization allocates learning budgets based on each employee’s work experience and job level, encouraging staff to engage in training and field visits.

Encouraging influence: Zhang also underscores the importance of the organization’s growing influence. A project’s impact in the sector is perceived as an essential factor in personal development. Even if employees decide to leave, their experience with influential projects makes it easy for them to find new opportunities. 

Challenges in talent development

Reflecting on the organization’s journey, Zhang shared some of the challenges faced during mid-level team development. The sudden departure of important team members, particularly those responsible for core projects, had the potential to disrupt the organization’s operations. Zhang revealed that the experience was both challenging and unsettling.

Resolution came through a combination of counselling for personal resilience, aggressive talent acquisition to fill gaps, and consistent human resource management measures to motivate staff. Such moments, which often lead to personal growth, were difficult but formative.