Omidyar, Lewis Push Nonprofit Management Training to Help Grantees

In a twenty-first-century twist on the idea of helping those who help themselves, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and Progressive Insurance magnate Peter Lewis have been actively involved in providing human resources and other management advice to many of the nonprofit groups they support, the New York Times reports.

According to Daring to Lead 2011 (20 pages, PDF), a survey of some three thousand leaders of small to midsize charities conducted last fall by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the D.C.-based Meyer Foundation, human resources was viewed as the most challenging and least satisfying aspect of nonprofit executives' jobs, with more than half describing it as "somewhat depleting" or "depleting." Most of the organizations surveyed were too small or new to have formal HR departments.

To address the issue, the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm created by Omidyar and his wife, Pam, established a management team within ON to work with the nonprofits it supported. For his part, the Cleveland-based Lewis established the Management Center, a nonprofit that provides human resources and other consulting services to groups to which he and others have donated.

Not content with merely providing technical assistance, however, the two men have insisted on challenging their grantees. For example, ON pledged $10 million to Endeavor Global, which supports budding entrepreneurs in developing countries, but required the organization to meet stiff matching requirements for nearly $4 million of the grant and asked founder Linda Rottenberg to undergo executive coaching. While some executives openly balked at being force-fed management advice, others acknowledge that the assistance has been helpful.

For Rottenberg, a mother of twins whose husband was being treated for cancer at the time of the grant, the executive coaching requirement almost scotched the deal. But in retrospect, she told the Times, she agreed to the stipulation and ended up appreciating the advice she received. "If I hadn't been going through what I was going through personally at the time, I might have pushed back on that more," she said. "We don't always agree with them....But the services they are offering are really useful, especially at organizations like us where resources are always scarce."