Strengthening the Nonprofit Leadership Pipeline: Preparing Young Professionals for Advancement

Quartararo, Elizabeth
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University of Delaware
In the past decade, studies have pointed to increasing numbers of nonprofit executive directors leaving their posts—in many cases, retiring, and in other cases, citing increased fundraising duties, a struggle to achieve a work-life balance, and financial concerns (Cornelius et al., 2008, p. 2). These reports have looked to the next generation of leaders and found that these young nonprofit professionals overwhelmingly feel unprepared for the role. Potential future executive directors worry that they are short on experience, mentoring, and training (Cornelius et al., 2008, p. 2), and, the duties involved do not look attractive to them. Nonprofit organizations employ 10% of the nation’s private workers (Salamon 2012, p. 8), and together this workforce addresses issues like homelessness and hunger; upholds special values, such as faith and community; responds to the needs of minority populations; and operates centers for the arts and education. In carrying out these activities, nonprofit employees face large workloads, often with inadequate technology, training, and equipment, and low compensation. These challenges, and other perceived drawbacks, make for a workforce that is hesitant to rise to the executive director position. This is an issue of particular importance as scholars anticipate large turnover within the sector as baby boomers retire from their executive posts, leaving a number of openings for the next generation of leaders (Tierney 2006, p. 551). This paper provides updated research examining young—defined here as those under age 40—nonprofit employees in the state of Delaware, their attitudes toward taking an executive director position in the future, and steps that can be taken to develop a leadership pipeline to ensure the strength of the sector in the future.
Public Policy