Nonprofit sector in need of qualified leaders amidst change

Published: Saturday, Aug. 4 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

Nayak said her study identified problems in nonprofit organizations that affect leaders across the nonprofit spectrum, most of whom reported being dissatisfied.

"The most frequent answers were time, money and resource constraint," Nayak said. "We also found that organizations considered leadership development too late."

Change in the sector

Evans, Ealy and Reynolds are involved with the nonprofit sector at a time of flux, where the demand for young, qualified leaders is increasing every year as evidenced by the creation of a new school of philanthropy at Indiana University.

Some of the biggest changes affecting the sector are the transition from private foundations to community foundations and the idea that geographical boundaries are virtually eliminated with the expansion of the Internet, Evans said.

"In the Internet era, people are not aligned to a single cause in the local community," Evans said. "People's devotions are not necessarily geographic anymore."

The way in which people volunteer is also changing, Evans said, and this presents an organizational challenge for the sector.

"People now tend to hop around from cause to cause, and that is one reason why we need trained professionals to manage volunteer staff. Gone is the yesteryear where Mom and Pop volunteer at the same hospital for 30 years."

Other changes in the sector include the ways in which the baby boomer generation wishes to spend its time and money, as well a changing of the guard as experienced professionals step down.

"The nonprofit sector has professionalized in the past two decades, and given the trillions in inherited wealth that is being transferred to the aging baby boomer generation, there stands an urgent need for qualified leaders," Evans said. "This is because the sector is both expanding while the current leaders are retiring."

The future funding and financial implications of the sector are also changing, experts say, so leaders must be prepared to adapt and deal with new hurdles.

"There is another shift happening in the sector, as I believe federated funding sources, such as United Way, are going the way of the dodo," Evans said. "They are going to be replaced in the upcoming years by community foundations with donor-advised funds."


New philanthropy programs at universities and leadership development programs are trying to address the growing need for the kind of qualified leaders the nonprofit sector needs to effectively adapt to these changes.

Reynolds found herself up that tree while participating in the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program run by Nonprofit Learning Point. The organization is one of several that provides leadership training for those looking to enhance their careers in the nonprofit sector.

Another solution, Nayak said, would include having the few organizations that are excelling in leadership development act as a model for the rest of the nonprofit sector.

"We identified nonprofits that are making movement and making progress," Nayak said. "Organizations that are doing well make leadership development a part of their everyday business and continuously maintain a vision for what future needs might be."

The Bridgespan study asked more than 225 nonprofit leaders to evaluate leadership development practices within their own organizations. Bridgespan released a guide, which will be updated with new data and re-released in paperback this fall, to help nonprofit leaders identify strengths and weaknesses in their leadership development.

The Bridgespan group provides five areas of emphasis that current and future leaders can use as guidelines to build a culture that supports development. Bridgespan suggests organizations should engage senior leaders, understand future needs, develop future leaders, hire leaders externally as needed and monitor and improve practices.

Importance of training

Reynolds said the knowledge, networking and personal growth she gained from her leadership program at Nonprofit Learning Point have been invaluable.

"It encouraged me to take on new challenges and helped me with starting my own nonprofit consulting business," she said. "It has been wonderful."

One of the most beneficial aspects of Reynold's training was hearing nonprofit CEOs talk about their experiences. She also appreciated the opportunity for self-exploration and evaluation.

"It was a great chance to learn about leadership skills and identify my strengths and weaknesses," Reynolds said. "It was really eye-opening to take assessments and see how I could grow and improve."

One of the most important things current leaders can do is to understand the true potential of their employees and not underestimate their skills or abilities, Nayak said.

"It's not just looking at how they are performing day-to-day but looking at what they want to do and what their strengths are," she said. "It sends a clear message that leaders who are there now care about development, and that is incredibly powerful for people at all levels."

That was another key takeaway for Reynolds, who said her leadership development program also instilled a confidence in her and encouraged her to strive for her maximum capability.

"I realized that I could take on new challenges," Reynolds said. "I was put on a new path where I felt challenged and I felt like I was growing."

email: tbetar@desnews.com

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