We spent a lot of time discussing the Executive Director position this weekend and the impending need for new leadership that the sector will have to accommodate for. And while the Executive Director is often the title associated with nonprofit leadership, it is by no means the only title for leaders.
I want to stress to my fellow YNPNers and beyond that you can lead without becoming an Executive Director. Certainly, there is always a sense of pride and excitement when meeting and/or hearing about Gen X'ers (or even Millennials!) that are doing well as young Executive Directors of an organization. It is by no means a small task to run a nonprofit organization, and to do it early in life is a great achievement. I know several, and I have great respect for each of them.
However, I dedicate this post to those who do not see the ED title in their future, yet still want to lead. You can lead now, as an associate or program coordinator. You can lead in YNPN or in your community. EDs are not the only leadership positions available.
I believe that the vast majority of us share this in common: We want to have a strong professional career, make a decent living, and do good at the same time. But how that 'strong professional career' in the nonprofit sector looks like might be different from person to person, and that is ok. I spoke with a YNPNer this weekend who said that he would never want to be a ED, because he wants to remain in constant and direct contact with the people that his organization serves. I, personally, don't see myself as wanting an ED position. That is not because I don't believe myself to be qualified or able, but because I would rather devote myself entirely to a particular area that I am passionate about, as opposed to being in charge of everything. Of course, I am young and things may change. But the fact of the matter is, you can lead from wherever you are in the sector. Each nonprofit serves the community in some way, whether it is the local community or beyond. Leaders throughout organizations are needed in order for us to serve to the best of our ability.
Let us not forget that a hard working program coordinator can often find him/herself doing the workload of two or more staff persons in half the amount of time while still maintaining a smile and loving his/her work. I'm not meaning to put the "badge" on our shoulders... you know what I'm taking about... the "feel sorry for me because I do such a great thing but I am so overworked and underpaid and...." No. This is not what I mean. What I am saying is that term "leader" does not necessarily imply "Executive Director."
Whether the golden ED title is hanging high in your head or if you have other plans, you can still lead. Volunteer with YNPN. Become a resource for your colleagues and for the community. Work hard at your job and never stop looking for ways to grow and learn. Take control of your career and lead it in the direction you want it to go. You are not limited. Lead in your own way.
Here is to all of the 'young' nonprofit 'leaders' no matter the title. I look up to each of you and couldn't be more excited to share this great YNPN network with such amazing people.
In 2006, a study surveyed numerous nonprofits with revenues greater than $250,000. In that study, the projected growth of the nonprofit sector and the need for new management suggested that the number of new managers needed to meet the need would require attracting 50% of all MBA graduates from every school in the country in the next 10 years. Over the next 10 years, the nonprofit sector will potentially need 640,000 new senior managers. Even if the sector begins consolidating and merging together, the survey still suggested that at least 330,000 new senior managers would still be needed.
Another study done in 2006 on Executive Director positions in nonprofits found that 75% of the Executive Directors surveyed were planning to leave their positions within the next 5 years (although they did plan to stay within the sector.) 70% said that they were planning to leave their organization at some point. Less than 1 in 3 had discussed succession planning with their Board.
There is a discussion that needs to be happening between those that are leading now and those that want to lead in the future. Here at the YNPN Annual Conference, it seemed that almost everyone is aware that these conversations are happening, but they are happening separately. Next generation leadership talks about it and so does the current leadership, but the conversations are not crossing between different generations.
Today, our keynote speaker, Robert Egger, suggested that our society does not recognize the incredible impact of the successes of the nonprofits. When we put people back to work, give young people better education, when we feed and house people, we are not only helping people, but we are helping society. The more people working, the better financial situation a community will be in. When people have food and housing, they can focus on their other needs. I am afraid that some of the nonprofit sector is making this same mistake. We are so focused on our own missions, that we are forgetting the impact that our fellow nonprofit organizations have on us. Nonprofits are afraid to invest in younger staff because the likelihood is that the younger staff person will leave. But better leadership in the nonprofit sector benefits the entire sector, not just a particular organization. Better education will ultimately equal a smaller need in employment, food and housing assistance. People that have jobs will be better equipped to afford taking care of their families. When one nonprofit is successful, we are all impacted in a positive way. Missions are important, but it may not be such a good idea to see ourselves as so separate from one another.
And of course, for young nonprofit professionals, we cannot always sit and wait. We must take control of our careers. If we aren't finding the professional development we need at our jobs, we might need to look for it elsewhere. Develop a personal brand. Join a board. Volunteer your skills and services. Go to conferences and learning seminars on your own time with your own money if you can. It can be done.
Of course, if the leadership gap projects are accurate, we will need both the next generation and the current generation of leadership to work together to ensure a viable and productive nonprofit sector for the future. Our communities will need one, and they deserve to have one.
I first became involved with YNPN this past summer. I was looking for ways to develop and grow professionally as a young aspiring nonprofit professional. Despite the fact that I double majored in college and graduated Magna Cum Laude, I had no idea how to move forward in my newly established career in the nonprofit sector – a career path I chose my senior year of college. (Why is it that so many college students seem prone to choose a career path for themselves only at the end of their 4 years of undergrad? Wouldn't it be so much more helpful if we made these decisions sooner?) Of course, upon finding about YNPN, I learned that there was not a local chapter in my area. With a small team of some great people, we are currently in the process of establishing one. This process will not only benefit myself, but should ultimately benefit the entire nonprofit sector of Detroit in years to come.
What I wonder, though, is this: Are the nonprofits that we work for supporting the efforts of their younger staff to improve themselves professionally? Are they supporting the idea that in order for them to succeed in their missions, they are going to need reliable leadership to replace them? This year's conference will focus on professional development in the nonprofit sector one day and on YNPN chapter development the next. Attendees will have the opportunity to take what they learn from this conference and not only improve their local YNPN chapters, but also return as better professionals in the workplace. I know that many of my colleagues are able to use their efforts with YNPN as professional development with their employers, such as this year’s YNPN Annual Conference. Some have more fully established chapters that are able to help fund members to attend. Others are to taking vacation days and/or spending a decent chunk of their own money to participate. For many young nonprofit professionals, spending several hundred dollars on a hotel and airfare in addition to having to take time off work would be more than enough to deter them from attending.
Support from nonprofit employers is crucial to creating strong next generation leadership. Verbal support is not always going to be enough when time and money are involved. Of course, the truth is, many nonprofits are struggling, making now a difficult time to make such requests. This makes it all the more important for the nonprofits that can support their younger staff in growth and development to do so. YNPN helps to ensure that there is a pool of experienced, bright and reliable nonprofit professionals in an area.
A successful YNPN chapter in any given area helps to increase nonprofit collaboration, creates better communication between nonprofits, and also creates avenues for nonprofits to find employees that have hearts for social change. I firmly believe that an organized group of young, social change oriented professionals in the Detroit area learning and growing together has the potential to do many great things for the region. Missions, strategic plans, and strong fund-raising strategies will only get an organization so far until it is time for new leadership. (And of course the leadership exchange is inevitable.) The more equipped that new leadership is the better future nonprofits will have.