Up and Coming Sector Leaders...

What can you do to help?

According to a recent national study entitled "Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out," created in partnership by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Meyer Foundation and Idealist.org, we're not doing all we can to harness the talent of our younger colleagues...our future leaders. 


The report summary states, "A lack of support and mentorship from incumbent executives add to the frustrations of these next generation leaders.  It should be noted that while for-profit companies fill 60 to 65 percent of their senior management positions by hiring from within, nonprofits, by contrast, tend to look for executive talent outside their ranks.  Recent data indicate that fewer than a third of nonprofit chief executives are internal hires.  With no clear career paths inside their own organizations, talented nonprofit staff members must work harder to develop the skills and networks they will ultimately need to lead their own shops."


So what is your role in supporting up-and-comers?  Here are a few helpful suggestions to keep our future leaders engaged, committed, knowledgeable, and ultimately successful.



(The ideas below were excerpted from the full report.  You can read the full report and additional suggestions at the Meyer Foundation website.)

1. Replace Dated Power Structures

In the focus groups, many younger people expressed frustration over top-down decision making, overly hierarchical structures, poor communication, lack of transparency around decision making, a culture of sacrifice, and resistance to change.  Executives who adapt their organizational cultures for less traditional hierarchy, while holding everyone accountable for meaningful mission impact, are in the best position to attract and retain the next generation of leadership.


2. Help Staff Build Strong External Networks

Forty-five percent (45%) of respondents identified the need to "further develop external connections and networks" as something they need to do to get ready for executive leadership. Without a strong network, otherwise talented people are unlikely to gain the broader perspectives or collegial support that it takes to secure executive positions someday. Invite younger staff to attend meetings with funders and colleagues--working with them beforehand if necessary so that they can participate meaningfully. Give staff substantive access to the board: have them staff board committees and task forces; have them attend and present at board meetings; have them suggest new board members for recruitment.


3. Be a Mentor

In Daring to Lead 2006, only half of the executive directors surveyed said they were developing someone on their staff to be a future executive director. Current executives should be serving as talent scouts for future executive directors for their own organizations and others. Because so many nonprofits are relatively small and employees often advance in their careers by moving on to other organizations, executive directors should consider mentorship an investment in the future leadership of the entire nonprofit sector--and encourage other executive directors to do the same.



So, if we want a talented pool of next-generation candidates, as executive directors and fundraisers, we all need to begin nurturing those future leaders now.  We'll reap the rewards just when we need them...when retirement is on the horizon, or burn out sets in, or we're just ready to step down, slacken our own pace, and let these new leaders step up and take charge.

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