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New Report, "Ready to Lead?," Offers Criticism and Advice for the Nonprofit Sector

Ready_to_lead For the past couple of days I've been digesting the latest report on hiring and succession planning in the nonprofit sector, Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out. Prepared through a partnership of the CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Meyer Foundation and, the report shares the findings of a survey of over 6,000 nonprofit sector employees conducted this past September. It sheds further light on issues that have been plaguing the sector for years:

  • 69% of respondents feel they are underpaid for the work they do and a significant number question whether or not they can afford to stay in a sector that doesn't allow them to support their families or prepare for retirement.
  • Younger workers are frustrated by the lack of career opportunities within their organizations. While 65% of for-profits look internally for their senior talent, only 1/3 of nonprofits find their leaders inside the organization. And in many nonprofits there are few opportunities to advance even if the organization was willing to look inside.
  • Many talented employees aren't sure that they want Executive Director positions. They've seen the career burnout and heavy fundraising demands that go with top-level positions and for many, this is a major barrier to considering advancement within the sector.
  • Even for those who are interested in moving up, there's little support or mentoring available to help them learn the ropes and gain the work experience that might prepare them for higher-level positions. Only 4% of respondents reported receiving any kind of structured preparation for future leadership positions in their organizations.

On the plus side, there are many educated, dedicated people filling the potential leadership pipeline and a significant number of those who aspire to the Executive Director ranks are people of color. This means that there are bright talented people available if only the right support structures and work environment were in place.

Ready to Lead is a meaty report with some great suggestions for addressing these challenges to the future of leadership in the sector. There's a particular emphasis on providing the appropriate supports and resources to help future leaders prepare for new positions, including supporting mentoring and coaching and ensuring that staff have access to fresh, relevant skills training that will specifically prepare them for the Executive Director role.

The greatest challenge to addressing the issues identified in Ready to Lead may lie in the need for a serious culture change. Low pay, long hours, few opportunities for advancement and lack of support for professional development--these are all long-standing problems in the sector that continue to exist because they are embedded in the culture of nonprofits. Maybe it's because of the scarcity mentality that grips so many NPOs. Maybe it's because people who've been around for awhile think like they do in the military--"These kids today are too soft. They don't know what rough IS."

Regardless of the causes, though, what remains is the fact that these are serious issues that require ongoing discussion and action planning. This is a problem that won't go away on its own.

For more information, also check out Rosetta Thurman's post on the report and a follow-up on a Washington Post discussion around Ready to Lead and low salaries in the sector.


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