Young leaders on deck as boomers face retirement

Nonprofits and funders must understand the differing motives, styles and requirements of the incoming generation of leaders if the transition of power from boomers to younger leaders is to be a smooth one, a new study says.

“Up Next: Generation Change and the Leadership of Nonprofit Organizations” was conducted by the Building Movement Project in New York City and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund in San Francisco.

Young leaders and boomers came to the nonprofit sector for different reasons, with the older generation responding to the activism of the 60s and 70s and the new generation responding to their personal experiences, the study says.

The younger group, while equally committed and planning to stay in their jobs long-term, strives for a balance between work and personal and family time to a greater degree than boomers, the study says.

Management styles differ between the two groups, with boomers tending to be more hierarchical and younger leaders seeking to find ways to share decision-making, but both agree that good leadership requires vision, communication skills and collaboration.

Diversity is a challenge both groups face, but younger leaders struggle more with managing multicultural workplaces, while boomers historically have worked to integrate white organizations, the study says.

To ensure that the transition of power goes well, boomer leaders should encourage and support the newer generation, and funders should invest in staff development, the study says.

The sector should also work to bring in more leaders of color, the study says, and should provide more opportunities for the generations to come together to discuss topics such as their assumptions about issues and causes and how the sector should address them.

To encourage a smooth transition, the sector should make it possible for boomer leaders to retire safely, by improving salaries and savings options, while encouraging a better balance between work and family life that will appeal to the younger generation.

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