(This week I’m guest blogging for an Americans for the Arts blog salon on “New Strategies to Support Emerging Leaders.” The discussion is prompted by the joint effort to support grassroots emerging leader networks by the Hewlett and Irvine Foundations and invites a consideration of what role funders have to play in the coming leadership transition. Here’s my first post on the topic, from Monday. Be sure to catch the rest of the conversation over at ARTSBlog.)

In October 2009, I attended a panel put together by the Hewlett Foundation’s Marc Vogl at the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference on new models and emerging leaders in the arts. Afterwards, Marc offered to send me, like everyone else who attended the panel, a copy of the Focus Group on Next Generation Leadership report by Barry Hessenius. The report is wonderful (disclosure: I participated in one of said focus groups during my internship at Hewlett in summer 2008), but since I had already read it, my attention was drawn instead to something else Marc included in the package: an excerpt from the most recent application for funding from the Hewlett Foundation that specifically asks grantseekers to address emerging leader issues.

For context, everyone should understand that Hewlett is a major funder of the performing arts in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearly every player in the region either receives grants from Hewlett or aspires to. So the Performing Arts Program team’s decision to put this in the application means that a lot of people will be filling it out. And just what questions will they be answering? Well, here’s a sample:

Have you provided formal feedback about job performance to all of your employees in the last 12 months (for example, through performance evaluations, a discussion on meeting job expectations, etc.)?

Which of the following work-related events do staff members OTHER THAN the executive director and top management participate in? [Choices include staff meetings, board meetings, strategic planning, and team volunteer activities]

In your annual budget, do you have a line item (or specific expense allocation) dedicated to professional development activities?

Another question asks about specific professional development opportunities provided to staff, making a distinction between top management and employees other than top management.

These are not difficult questions to answer. Most simply require a yes or a no, or perhaps checking a few boxes. If the person filling it out has any idea what his or her coworkers are up to, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to complete the survey. But by requiring this information, Hewlett sets expectations around what leadership development and staff support means in practice, and communicates that organizations may be judged on how they meet those expectations. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how a funder shows leadership.

And just to prove that this is not a one-sided conversation, the Hewlett application includes two additional, optional questions at the end. These are my favorites, because they ask grantseekers, openly and honestly, for advice on how Hewlett can use its resources to make accomplishing these goals easier. The first question is,

In what ways could the Hewlett Foundation and other grantmaking foundations support arts organizations’ efforts to encourage positive work dynamics?

And the second one reads,

What types of resources can be provided to your organization’s senior staff and leadership to improve communications, collaboration, and teamwork among people of different generations on your staff? (If you don’t perceive any need for improvement in this area please tell us why the intergenerational dynamics in your workplace are successful).

A central plank of the emerging leader platform, I think, is that good ideas can come from seemingly unexpected places. It’s great to see a funder tap grant applicants – not just grantees – for those ideas.