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Not-for-profit Leadership Ventures calling it quits

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An Indianapolis-based not-for-profit that trains board members of volunteer organizations will cease operations June 30.

In a letter to supporters sent Thursday, Leadership Ventures’ President Ruth Purcell-Jones and Board Chairman Lee Lewellen attributed the closing to declining revenue tied to the economic downturn. Both donations and client fees have fallen in recent years.

Leadership Ventures has been hit particularly hard, Purcell-Jones told IBJ, because of its status as what’s known in the industry as an “intermediary” that serves other not-for-profits.

“[Donors’] focus, for the most part, is on direct services to those that are in the most need,” she said. “So professional development is not something, at this moment, that is at the tops of most people's minds.”

The past few years have been difficult for the organization. Leadership Ventures ran a deficit of more than $303,000 in its last two fiscal years, according to the IRS Form 990 it filed in 2009.

Contributions dwindled from $141,085 in 2008 to $99,800 last year, and other revenue fell from $322,458 to $241,625 during the same period.

Leadership Ventures launched 12 years ago as a program of founder Katherine Tyler Scott. Originally called Trustee Leadership Development, it achieved official not-for-profit status in 2006. The organization has two employees, down from seven last year, according to the organization's 990.

A feasibility study done by Indianapolis-based consulting firm Achieve concluded that, while a need for not-for-profit training exists, the financial resources are lacking, Purcell-Jones and Lewellen said in their letter.

For intermediaries such as Leadership Ventures to be successful, especially in the difficult economic climate, they need to convey the value they contribute as clearly as they can, said Angela White, chief operating officer of Johnson Grossnickle and Associates in Greenwood.

Take for instance United Way of Central Indiana, she said.

“They’re not directly feeding the hungry, but they’re allocating funds to organizations that do,” White said, acknowledging that it also is a much larger organization. “What’s the value added for gifting to the intermediary? I think that’s the key.”

One of Leadership Ventures’ flagship events, the Board Chair Summit, now will be presented by Lacy Leadership Association, which agreed to assume ownership. The first summit, held in January, gave not-for-profit leaders the opportunity to come together to learn new practices and share ideas with one another.

Leadership Ventures has provided training for more than 30,000 not-for-profit board and staff members, Purcell-Jones said.

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  • good intentions
    While the cause was (remains) a good one, my experience in these fields led me to believe this organization tried to grow too big too fast, a bit like the late Executive Service Corps. When your payroll balloons, you have to feed the beast and you may begin to lose focus on the doable part of your mission. Smaller is better in my book.
  • Is that the whole story?
    Trustee Leadership Development was always a controversial organization because it's founder could not practice what she preached. That left sour grapes and a hint of inconsistency with many folks that they dealt with locally. I wonder if, following the departure of the founder, things never got onto a level keel?
  • Sad news
    I had the honor of meeting Ruth a few years back and have always been impressed with the focus of Leadership Ventures. As someone who has sat on various not for profit boards, I am sad that a key leadership development organization will not be a player helping to train and prepare future leaders.

    I encourage her to find a way to make it work in another approach. It really is that important.

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