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Nonprofit Leadership, It Soon Will Be a-Changin': Will the Sector Be Ready?

If you are involved with a nonprofit organization, take a look at the people who run it. Pretty soon, there may be entirely new faces in those positions.

Results of a survey published late last year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that 23 percent of 2,210 executive directors anticipate leaving their organizations within two years. The survey was conducted in 2004; thus, if these expectations prove true, we will see nearly one-quarter of the top nonprofit jobs turn over by the end of this year.

Filling those positions may prove difficult. The nonprofit executive has become less distinct from his or her for-profit peers, Brad Cummings of Monument Consulting told GuideStar, and recruiting leaders for nonprofits is already more challenging than usual because of the economy. Fundamental differences between nonprofit and for-profits missions, revenue generation, ownership, and available resources exacerbate the situation, because accepting an executive with only business experience does not always satisfy a nonprofit's needs.

Daniel B. Ripps, vice president of DRG, a nonprofit executive search consulting firm, agrees that nonprofits and for-profits seek many of the same qualifications in their executives: vision, leadership, and business skills. As the sector has grown and individual nonprofits have become increasingly more complex, organizations have begun to try to entice executive directors with more business and management skills as well as those capable of making difficult financial decisions.

The nonprofit executive, however, needs to lead by consensus more than dictation, Ripps contends. In addition, nonprofits need executives who have the ability to fundraise and possess excellent interpersonal skills that will enable them to foster relationships with funders, donors, and board members.

Action Plan for the Future: Celebrate the Sector's Unique Qualities

Clearly, the sector can expect increased competition for leadership in the next few years. What can nonprofits offer executives to entice them to accept jobs that often offer lower compensation than equivalent positions in the for-profit sector?

Daniel Ripps suggests that flexibility and understanding of outside priorities, such as family needs, can be particularly attractive to senior executives who want to spend more time with their families or small children. Success, he offers, is measured differently in the nonprofit sector than in the for-profit world.

Brad Cummings concurs. In a slumping economy and overall hot job market, he states, nonprofits' best chance for recruiting top-notch talent seems to lie in their ability to provide a different quality of life for executives than the for-profit industry can offer.

Lauren Nicole Klapper-Lehman and Suzanne E. Coffman, January 2006
© 2006, Philanthropic Research, Inc. (GuideStar)

Lauren Klapper-Lehman is an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary. She was a communications intern at GuideStar during the fall 2005 semester. Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's director of communications and editor of the Newsletter.
Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice