A recent Boston Globe article has once again drawn attention to an issue we have been warned about for several years – a predicted mass leadership transition among nonprofits.
Though we have long been warned about the anticipated change as boomers retire from leadership roles at the nonprofits many of them started, it seems few nonprofit boards have taken the necessary steps to prepare.
Cited in the article, for instance, is a soon to be released study of New England nonprofit leaders which indicates two-thirds of them have plans to leave their role in the next five years, but the majority of their organizations (60%) have yet to begin working on succession plans.
The industry has been lucky to date in that the transition of boomer leaders to retirement has been slower than originally predicted, likely due to the recession delaying retirement plans for many boomers. However, it is time for nonprofit boards to begin getting serious about tackling plans for the transition.
Here are a few things your board should begin doing now if you have a leader that will be retiring in the next few years:
- Begin budgeting for professional development and leadership training to help groom staff to take the reins down the road.
- Take steps to deepen relationships with donors beyond the Executive Director, so their connection lies with the organization rather than one individual.
- Consider creative ways to transition leadership into retirement slowly, allowing them to stay on as a consultant for a period of time to avoid the sudden loss of decades of institutional memory.
- Gen X and Millennial candidates are looking for more than idealistic boomers sought when they first climbed the ranks to a leadership position. Boards should investigate current salary trends in nonprofits and develop a sustainable budget model that incorporates leadership salaries that are in-line with current market demands.
- During strategic planning include a section on organizational leadership and mesh the organization’s vision for the future with an outline of the type of leadership that will be required to lead the organization in the next 3, 5, and even 10 years.
- Keep lines of communication open with staff and have authentic conversations about retirement plans and timelines, as well as, plans for growth and advancement with younger staff members.
- Identify skill sets that are crucial to the successful running of your nonprofit across all functions and take steps to grow skill sets among current staff and seek out those skill sets in future hires.
The forecast isn’t all doom and gloom as we look at the coming changing of the guard. Many predict the influx of new leaders will bring with them a renaissance of sorts for nonprofits.
The new generations of Gen X and Millennial leaders will bring with them more undergraduate and advanced degrees, extensive managerial experience combined with business and entrepreneurial savvy, and a deeper appreciation and understanding of technology. They will come in ready to question the status quo and welcome new ways of tackling old problems.
It’s time for boards to begin the work now to prepare for these big changes ahead.