Director of Learning, The McKnight Foundation

Posted: November 8, 2017
Location: Minnesota, United States
Position: Program
Field: Community foundations
Salary: Competitive
Application Deadline: December 8, 2017
Category: Other programs
Employment Level: Full-time

The McKnight Foundation (“McKnight” or “the Foundation”) is a 4th generation, Minnesota-based family foundation founded in 1953 that seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations using all its resources to attend, unite, and empower those they serve. In 2016, McKnight had assets of approximately $2.2 billion and made grants of $87 million.

Program interests are diverse and include regional economic and community development, Minnesota’s arts and artists, education and learning, Midwest climate and energy, Mississippi River water quality, neuroscience research, international crop research and rural livelihoods. The primary geographic focus is the state of Minnesota (approximately 60% of grantmaking), with significant support directed to strategies throughout the U.S., Africa, Southeast Asia and South America.

Staff at McKnight make meaningful contributions to some of the major challenges of our time. They are guided by McKnight’s mission and values of Accountability, Innovation, Integrity and Respect, developing and adjusting strategies based on a process of ongoing learning, reflection, and adaptive action. This allows the Foundation to take adaptive action over time in response to changes in cultural, demographic, economic, environmental, political, scientific, and technological landscapes.

The Foundation cares about what gets accomplished as well as how it gets done. Staff are encouraged to bring deep content knowledge and the self- awareness, empathy, and intellectual curiosity to be collaborative learners and co-creators with others internally and externally; interpersonal savvy; excellent problem-solving and effective communication skills. Staff are expected to work smart and get results. The Foundation supports employees with meaningful work, inspiring and supportive colleagues, and the resources and tools to do the work well.

McKnight enjoys an exemplary reputation. McKnight’s most recent Grantee Perception Report from The Center for Effective Philanthropy places the Foundation in the top 10 percent of funders for its impact on grantees’ fields and effect on public policy and in the top 20 percent of funders for its impact on grantees’ organizations. McKnight also received a 2016 “Great Rated!” designation from the Great Place to Work Institute.

The McKnight Foundation has an explicit commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. This commitment is critical to deepening our relevance, credibility, and effectiveness, and it strengthens our efforts to improve the lives of present and future generations. The civic and economic vitality of our home state of Minnesota, depends on inclusive and equitable opportunities for everyone. We see many ways to realize this vision as a funder, convener, thought leader, and as an employer, economic entity, and institutional investor.

McKnight is seeking to hire for a newly created staff position focused on learning. The Strategic Framework and our approach to emergent learning and adaptive action demonstrate the foundation’s deep commitment to strategic learning as a means to achieve its core values of accountability, integrity, innovation, and respect in pursuit of our mission.

The Director of Learning position is an opportunity to cultivate a highly integrated practice that can be responsive to programs’ emergent needs and adaptive opportunities in real-time in order to build durable capacity for ongoing learning. Staff are fully engaged and eager to use learning and evaluative thinking to adapt and improve their strategies as conditions change in order to drive better planning, strategy, grantmaking, and impact.

McKnight’s Approach to Philanthropy
At the core of McKnight’s approach to philanthropy are quality relationships and deep understanding of place. There is a strong shared belief that how staff go about their work is just as important as the grants they make. Each program pursues its own ambitious goals, drawing upon abundant resources of creativity, research and data, existing and emergent knowledge, and collaboration with diverse grantees, partners, and multiple program stakeholders. The Foundation uses not only grantmaking, but all of the tools and resources at its disposal, including investments, convening, and credible influence, to support systems change.

The Opportunity
As McKnight’s programmatic work has evolved, we have an increasingly explicit foundation-wide commitment to adaptive action and emergent learning as key aspects of our approach. We intend to deepen our program-wide commitment to cultivating a system of learning that supports programmatic coherence and leads our work to be more effective, credible, and relevant.

The new staff position of director of learning will provide support to staff to help them:

Learn and adapt faster and more efficiently

Use data from a variety of sources and perspectives to “reality check” program and team hypotheses and assumptions

Understand and communicate how the programs’ full portfolio of grants and non-grant activity add up to a balanced strategy for systems change

Assess interim indicators of impact and act adaptively through adjustments to the portfolio and strategies as needed in real time

Learning Strategy

• In partnership with the vice president of programs, develop a coherent approach to learning and evaluation that builds upon and strengthens current frameworks rooted in adaptive action and emergent learning, with a preference for developmental evaluation approaches. This includes refining the Foundation’s core learning and evaluation vision, principles, strategic tools, learning frameworks, and structures;

• Capturing and disseminating knowledge, including from research, to improve organizational effectiveness;

• Partnering with the director of communications and program directors to identify, strategize, and share learnings publicly, for the benefit of Foundation partners and the broader fields of interest to McKnight.

Learning Approaches

• Provide consultation to program directors to develop hypotheses, learning questions, and indicators and metrics for strategies and initiatives;

• Work with program directors to identify priorities for in-depth learning and adaptive action at the grant, field, or Foundation level; partner on the development of strategies, approaches, and plans for learning/evaluation;

• Advance learning at the board level focused on understanding program strategy, impact and performance;

• Support program teams to ensure that learning is considered and integrated into ongoing efforts as well as future strategy and program planning;

• Identify and cultivate partnerships with external evaluators and resources that are situationally tailored to McKnight’s program areas and the level of rigor required.

Systems and Capacity Building

• Build the capacity of McKnight’s program teams and grantees through a range of approaches, which may include individual and group training, outside workshops, consultants, etc.;

• Partner with the Operations/Grants Management team to create and support internal structures and systems for cross-program sharing; and develop specific tools and technology supports that anchor a culture of learning, both organizationally and within each program.

Minimum Education and Experience

Master’s degree in related field and a minimum of 7 years related full-time professional work experience of progressively responsible positions, including work as team leader or equivalent, or a combination of equivalent experience and training.

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

• Ability to facilitate strategic learning with all levels of staff, many of whom are experts in their fields.

• Knowledge and skill in using tools and resources for learning and evaluation and the ability to support others in developing knowledge and skills with these tools.

• Knowledge of one’s own cultural competency orientation and commitment to on-going skill development.

• Ability to develop, maintain, and evolve a body of concepts and learning that continuously informs and reflects the thinking and knowledge of the Foundation and specific program areas.

• Ability to clearly communicate concepts, research findings, issues analysis and data interpretations and to see relationships and patterns and express them clearly.

• Skill in proactive action, independent thinking, and problem-solving with demonstrated initiative in launching a complex program.

• Ability to work in a collegial environment with people and groups with many facets of diversity in an inclusive manner.

• Ability to meet tight deadlines.

• Knowledge and understanding of The McKnight Foundation’s programs, mission, values, strategic framework, structure, and culture.

• Ability to work with high level of proficiency in Microsoft Office software including Word, Excel, and Outlook.

Foundation-wide Competencies
Collaborates, Communicates Effectively, Manages Complexity, Builds Networks, Being Resilient, Drives Results, Strategic Mindset, Instills Trust

Position-specific Competencies

Nimble Learning, Manages Ambiguity, Cultivates Innovation, Drives Engagement

View the complete profile at:

Application Process
The McKnight Foundation has engaged Ballinger Leafblad to manage the search process. All inquiries and applications should be directed to

Priority consideration will be given to candidacies who have submitted materials by Friday, December 8, 2017.

Crossposted from Chronicle of Philanthropy, for information sharing purposes.
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