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Nonprofit leadership crisis an opportunity

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Dee Blake

Dee Blake

If the reports are true, a storm is brewing in the nonprofit sector, and nonprofit boards may not be prepared to get out of the rain.

Sixty-five percent to 75 percent of executive directors in the U.S., and more than a few board members, will be leaving their jobs within five years.

And only 30 percent of those executive directors have discussed their plans with their boards, according to a recent CompassPoint study.

While this unprecedented challenge will make executive searches far more difficult for boards, there is good news.

This challenge will offer significant opportunities to talented individuals who utilize the next couple of years to broaden their understanding of fundraising, board management and the nonprofit world.

These aspiring leaders in the field of nonprofit management will actively pursue nonprofit leadership training and mentoring from experienced professionals with a wealth of practical experience.

When the call comes, they will bring a well-rounded set of skills and knowledge to the organizations that hire them.

Donors and volunteers will be assured their organizations have a strong leader at the helm — one with a clear vision of how their organization can excel in its mission.

The crisis at hand is not a crisis of “leadership drain,” but rather a crisis of leadership development.

Now is the time for nonprofit executive directors to identify and prepare potential leaders to transition into increasingly more responsible roles within their organizations.

To prepare their up-and-coming leaders for this transition, nonprofits will have to be firm in their commitment to develop these leaders through nonprofit management programs like those offered at local universities, community leadership development programs like Leadership Triangle and mentoring programs that pair experienced professionals with those willing to learn.

Mentoring programs carry a special appeal as they provide individuals with one-on-one advice from an experienced professional who is a leader in a particular field of expertise.

This approach allows learners to discuss day-to-day challenges with professionals who can help them develop skills in planning and problem-solving.

Mentoring will also be tremendously beneficial to the new executive director who has management training but no depth of experience working with donors or boards of directors.

Recognizing the challenges these transitions will bring to boards and potential new leaders, a local professional group has developed a program to prepare individuals for the opportunities that are coming.

The Triangle chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals is offering two training programs to AFP members and non-members.

On April 22, the chapter offered a “Mentoring Express.”

Reminiscent of speed-dating, the program paired participants with experienced mentors in four 25-minute segments.

Each segment gave the learner one-on-one time to discuss a specific topic such as “managing the annual fund,” “working with boards of directors,” and “cultivating major gifts.”

A more detailed overview of the nonprofit world will be offered by the same group on August 5 and 6 at the AFP North Carolina Philanthropy Conference in Research Triangle Park.

The two-day “First Course” training program offers eight modules that give an overview of some of the roles and responsibilities a new executive director may be facing.


Dee Blake is senior vice president for donor relations at Triangle United Way in Research Triangle Park, N.C.  

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