Communities across the country and around the world face complex, urgent challenges, from economic inequality and unaddressed educational and health disparities to environmental issues. Recent economic turbulence has intensified the vital role that nonprofit organizations must play in resolving these challenges. Needs have increased while resources have decreased. In 2011, 85% of nonprofits expect an increase in service demand, and 54% do not expect to be able to meet this demand. While the trend toward increased demands is evident, so too is the downward trend in nonprofits’ actual and expected abilities to meet the demand. Unfortunately, this downward spiral is likely to continue.
This environment is requiring nonprofits to rethink the way they achieve social change and deliver results. In order to stay relevant and effective for their constituents, nonprofits must be more thoughtful, creative and collaborative than ever before. Organizations are doing “more with less,” forming partnerships, developing volunteer workforces and managing to serve more clients than before.
While organizations are making strong and effective responses to difficult times,there is not a sustainable approach to a new nonprofit existence. Moving forward, the community of effective leaders must taken an ‘all hands on deck’ approach in order to address society’s most complex needs. When talented individuals from social, business, governmental and academic sectors are able to bring their wealth of skills and knowledge to the benefit of society, problems will be addressed and solved efficiently and effectively.
A Leadership Deficit
Like most organizations, nonprofits’ ability to deliver results depends more on the quality of their people than on any other single variable. Yet today nonprofits struggle to attract and retain the human capital they need to achieve their missions. Without effective leaders pursuing individual and collaborative mission achievement, we are unlikely to effectively solve our greatest communal challenges. Over the coming decade, this talent gap will only become more acute.
Across the country and across sectors, the Baby Boomer generation is readying for retirement, and replacement leaders are needed. The nonprofit sector lags in having leaders ready for the challenge. Nonetheless, there are plenty of professionals who seek to make effective social change in the world. If supported, trained and given access to powerful experiences, these professionals can become the effective voice and hand of change. However, the nonprofit sector does not currently provide the career paths, perceived respect, professional development opportunities, and leadership experiences desired by young professionals who could be future leaders. This trend is especially concerning given that need to hire over 600,000 senior nonprofit managers over the next several years.
The nonprofit community needs a greater pipeline for talent, and more importantly needs to develop a stronger support structure that builds leaders in the sector, rather than just funneling them into roles to replace retirees. The Millenial generation of future leaders lives in a world of constant communication and collaboration, and has a large population of skilled and mission-driven individuals. We have a choice - we can use the energy and skills of these young and developing professionals, or we can wait as the leadership of nonprofits - in their time of greatest need - begins to slow.
New Sector Alliance chooses the active path; by giving young professionals the training, support and experiences to inspire their focus on the nonprofit sector and to develop their tools for leadership success, New Sector seeks to develop a new generation of leaders.
*Data on this page from Nonprofit Finance Fund's 2011 State of the Sector Survey