Nonprofit organizations are suffering from a leadership gap

While nonprofits are strong in charity, they appear chronically anemic when it comes to investing in crucial leadership development.

In one recent survey of nearly 1,200 nonprofit leaders, only 20% said they were very confident that they had the leadership abilities to enable their team to achieve its goals. Meanwhile, many were planning to leave their jobs. Almost 70% said would do so within the next five years. And only around 20% of the surveyed leaders had a formal succession plan for their own or other leadership positions.

As a leader with 30 years in nonprofit experience, I think it is urgent that we fix this leadership gap, particularly women of color who desire to lead at the CEO level.

Few funders currently support nonprofit leadership development, but I believe that it would be well worth their money to do so. The nonprofit sector has the third-largest workforce in the U.S., behind retail and manufacturing, around 11.4 million jobs. These significant employers cannot succeed by instinct or good will, without leadership training, coaching, or mentoring.

Organizations that invest in leadership development outperform those that do not. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 86% of companies with strategic leadership development programs were able to “respond rapidly” to unpredictable business environments while just 52% of companies with less mature leadership programs could do the same.

Leadership training works. A longitudinal study stretching more than 40 years with more than 18,000 leaders and 12,000 managers, peers, and direct reports of leaders found that 82% of those surveyed observed “positive leadership behaviors” after development courses. Those behaviors include building trust, influencing, leading change, managing performance problems and resolving conflict.

Effective leadership development could also make a difference in reducing the hardship from a leadership turnover. The two-year turnover rate for senior leadership, according to research by the nonprofit management consulting firm Bridgespan Group, is about 25 percent, driven in large part by the perceived lack of development and growth opportunities. Providing those growth opportunities could help lower the turnover rate.

Nonprofits are not just a “feel good” sector; they are a necessity to local communities and around the world. Leadership development must become the number one priority in nonprofits so that the sector can thrive and each nonprofit mission can be accomplished.

In January 2019, Alliance for Greater Works in partnership with the University of North Texas Dallas and the University of Texas at Dallas will offer a five-month Women’s Alliance: Executive Leadership Program to prepare, position and propel women into executive-level positions at nonprofit organizations. 

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