P O S T E D B Y A L B E R T
Assuming the impending nonprofit workforce crisis is real and not imagined, we have some work to do. The latest report on the subject, Ready to Lead: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out,* reviews the various factors that will make nonprofit leadership recruitment more difficult in the years to come. The report is based on a survey of close to 6,000 mostly younger next generation leaders—the largest survey of its kind to date.
Retiring Baby Boomers and the money worries of Gen Xers and Gen Yers will constrain the supply of would-be leaders even as nonprofits are drawn into an all-out “war for talent” with the government and business sectors. Meanwhile, a lack of support and mentorship from incumbent executives will make it difficult for younger staffers to develop the skills they need to lead a nonprofit organization.
We’ll soon see if market forces will, as some predict, smooth out the bumps in the road ahead. It’s possible that with more openings in the leadership ranks, more young people will look for careers in the nonprofit sector. Sector leaders may rally and create new training programs and new incentives for charitable work.
I’d worry less about the impact of this impending crisis if the sector were, in general, better bankrolled. Instead, charitable organizations operate in an environment of chronic scarcity as they struggle to meet the demand for services. In this kind of environment, current leaders neglect to nurture the younger talent in their ranks; board members lose touch with the overhwelming fundraising burdens on executive directors.
But if there’s a theme that runs through these various workforce reports, it might be this: Because it’s so hard to raise charitable dollars, those of us who direct the work of the sector—current executive directors and board members, in particular—are frequently tempted to recruit and retain good talent on the cheap; but our investments in staff are the absolute last places we should be looking to cut costs.
It used to be that if one applicant turned his nose up at a nonprofit job, there’d be three waiting in the wings to apply. We’re moving into an era when the demographics will turn sharply against us.
* I was one of the authors of this report together with Marla Cornelius of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and Patrick Corvington of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. I serve as vice president for programs and communications at the Meyer Foundation, one of the report’s primary sponsors.