Nonprofit leaders are in a bit of a bind. Funding is tight, time is short and staffing is barebones. Entire models for fundraising, communicating and meeting the mission are changing. The pressure is on to show exactly how their work is making a difference.
Unfortunately, the demands of the nonprofit sector have not been matched by investment in leadership talent. Equipping people to lead through change and challenge has been largely overlooked.
Nonprofits rarely have the structures or funding for providing development opportunities for employees. Long-established leaders often hold tightly to their roles, and most funders don’t place a high priority on building a leadership pipeline.
“The sector is beginning to see the implications of this neglect,” says Karen Dyer, director of CCL’s Education and Nonprofit sector. “We have a capacity gap that will require significant investments and new approaches to attract, keep and grow effective, creative nonprofit leaders.”
Some executives in the corporate sector are eager to invest in boosting nonprofit leadership, including American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault. The American Express Nonprofit Leadership Academy, a four-year collaboration with CCL, has helped more than 300 emerging leaders in not-for-profit organizations build the skills needed to run and lead a successful organization.
American Express also partnered with CCL on a research study to better understand the needs and issues that affect the hiring and development of nonprofit talent. The resulting report, Emerging Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations: Myths, Meaning and Motivations, includes suggestions for how current leaders, emerging leaders and funders can invest in nonprofit talent development. Key recommendations include:
Provide opportunity for learning. New experiences and opportunities to learn are important for employee motivation as well as for building bench strength. People at all levels may be more engaged and more willing to stay with an organization if they feel challenged, are given interesting assignments and have development opportunities.
Work across lines. Many employees of nonprofits are more committed to causes than individual organizations. Look for ways to foster learning and build talent throughout the sector — draw on partnerships, collaborate with other area nonprofits, share resources, or build capacity together.
Adapt to changing work and workplace expectations. Flat organizational structures and mobile technologies are changing the what, how, when and where of work. The lines between work time and personal time are often blurry. Individuals, particularly younger workers, increasingly have the desire to choose how they manage the boundaries between work and non-work roles, relationships and responsibilities.
Measure, communicate and connect to impact. Staff, as well as volunteers and donors, want to know they are making a difference. Fewer individuals are willing to take it on faith that they are making a positive difference; they want tangible evidence of the difference they and their organizations are making. The new workforce is willing to change organizations if they do not believe they are having an impact.
Read the full report — Emerging Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations: Myths, Meaning and Motivations — and take a look at Power Up Nonprofit Partnerships in CCL’s 2012 Annual Report.