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A Slightly Narrower Leadership Gap

According to the authors of Daring to Lead 2011, a national study on nonprofit leadership produced by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation, two-thirds of executive directors plan to leave their positions within the next five years.

The good news is this figure is somewhat lower than what’s been reported in recent years. In the 2001 and 2006 publications of the Daring to Lead report, three out of four executives said they planned to leave their position.

The bad news is a lot of leaders plan to move on over the next few years. The real question is: what is the nonprofit sector planning to do about it? The findings of the report suggest a few solutions:

(1) Develop a succession plan. According to the report, just 17% of organizations surveyed have a documented succession plan, and 33% of executives were very confident that their boards will hire the right successor when they leave. Current leadership needs to talk proactively about succession with their boards and work together to develop a vision and plan to hiring a successor.

(2) Connect with the next generation of leaders
. Nonprofits will benefit from identifying talent – whether inside or outside of the organization – often and early. Senior leadership and board members should devote some portion of their time to information interviews and networking with “up and comers.” Organizations like YNPN, Independent Sector, Echoing Green, and Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy are great sources to connect with the next generation of nonprofit leadership.

(3) Identify a deputy as early as possible. The search for an ED’s successor can be rather involved and time-consuming, particularly when there are hiring committees and other stakeholders involved. A strong interim leader can relieve some of the pressure to make a hire quickly. If there’s a likely candidate to step up to this role within your organization, start the transition with as much time in advance as possible, ideally a year. A board member can also step in to play this role.

(4) Address the root cause. According to the report, current EDs cited a few reasons why they planned to leave their jobs, including underperforming boards of directors and difficulty of maintaining healthy work-life balance. Both of these issues can be addressed with frank conversations and creative strategies, as long as key stakeholders are willing to work to make real changes. (Note: making changes in these areas may also help you retain other staff as well…)

To read the full Daring to Lead 2011 report, please visit:

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