Can You Help Nonprofits Find the Next Generation of Leaders?

This post appeared on June 1st, 2009 as a part of the Career Corner Advice Series


A recent report by The Bridgespan Group finds that nonprofit leaders from around the country foresee difficulty in filling 24,000 senior management positions in 2009 alone.The report, entitled Finding Leaders for America’s Nonprofits, also addresses some of the reasons for this difficulty.

While the prospect of 24,000 nonprofit leadership positions sounds on the surface like fantastic news for anyone interested in meaningful nonprofit work, there are some important pieces of the report to consider. After all, remember that the 433 U.S. nonprofit leaders (all from organizations with annual budgets over $1 million) said that finding these leaders will be difficult. Why? Some of the difficulties highlighted include:

  • No clear understanding of how to find qualified candidates
  • An organizations’ inability to offer adequate compensation
  • Difficulty in finding executives with the necessary specialized skills
  • A lack of resources for find or cultivate new leaders
  • No preexisting networks to find the best leaders
  • Perceptions that the talent pool may have returned to the for-profit sector or reached retirement age.

From a job seeker’s perspective, it may seem incredible that there is a huge pool of talent available yet these leaders are citing problems in cultivating new managers. What, then, can a job seeker do? The answer will not surprise you (since it is the same answer that Meg and I give every time we write a Career Corner post)… get involved!

We’ve talked a lot in the past about intentional relationship building and being an active participant in your local nonprofit sector so that you raise your visibility and help organizations see your value. Even if you are working with an organization that doesn’t have one of these 24,000 leadership jobs opening up in the next six months, chances are there is a partner organization that does. For you sector switchers (or, to use Bridgespan’s term: bridgers), keep in mind the report cited that 21% of the senior management positions filled in the last 18 months were filled by bridgers. But also keep in mind that, while these bridgers’ business skills are desirable, there is also concern over that ever-elusive “cultural fit.”

Still, I’d be willing to bet that many of these professionals were already out there networking and getting involved and they ended up being the right professional in the right place at the right time…and there’s nothing stopping you from setting yourself for similar success.

Steven Joiner is Director of the Career Transitions Program and author of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers.

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