Book Post #12: Succession planning

Over the past ten years, there has been a lot of research done about the “leadership gap” that will occur when Baby Boomers retire.  There have been questions about the readiness of the younger generations to take their place.  Working Across Generations (by Frances Kunreuther, Helen Kim, and Robby Rodriguez) coins this as the replacement theory:  If leaders are leaving (their employment positions), we need to find new ones to take their place. In 2006, CompassPoint’s Daring to Lead study found that 75% of nonprofit executive directors planned to leave their jobs in the next five years. The same year, a local a study, Executive Transition in San Diego’s Nonprofit Sector, was conducted at the University of San Diego and found that 68% of the area’s nonprofit leaders expected to leave in the next five years.


Surprising? No.


What is surprising is that five years has passed and the Baby Boomers haven’t retired.  It turns out that nonprofit leaders don’t want to retire or leave the sector, they just want to leave their jobs because of the amount of stress they experience on the job.


Surprising? Not at all.

As we all know, working in the nonprofit world promises long hours and little pay. A lifetime career is a recipe for burnout.  And it is a thankless job. It is not surprising that a research study conducted with the National Young Nonprofit Professional Network (YNPN) found that although 65% of young professionals who want to stay in the nonprofit sector are “ambivalent about taking on an executive director role” fearing its impact on their quality of life.

If Baby Boomers aren’t willing to retire, it does not free up executive-level positions for the younger generations. There is no room at the top. It is quite obvious that the younger generation is hungry for leadership opportunities and they can’t find a “seat” at the table. In order to be leaders, Gen Xers have started creating their own organizations. Which is not surprising considering I am a Gen Xer and have founded my own nonprofit organization.

This new way to lead has become quite common and we have seen very successful nonprofits grow from Gen X and Y like Invisible Children, Charity: Water, and Stay Classy.

It would be wonderful in considering succession planning, if the younger generations could move into roles of leadership.  It would also help if the leadership role was redefined. Perhaps if the Executive Director position was delineated and their were co-directors instead of one Executive Director? Or a flattened hierarchy where there was a team approach instead of top-down management, the younger generations would be more engaged in nonprofits because they felt that they were leading?

At Palomar Pomerado Health Foundation these issues do not exist.

Generation X respondents were asked specific questions about professional growth within the office. The majority (33%) of Generation X respondents agreed that they are given ample or sometimes (33%) given opportunity to lead within your organization and the development function. The majority (67%) of Generation X respondents did not feel that it is an age-related issue or another issue.

Gen Xers have or want to gain in their current and future positions (in priority order):

  • additional experience
  • a higher position
  • fundraising training workshops
  • undergraduate degree
  • certificate or masters degree

The majority (67%) of Generation X respondents agreed that they are offered regular opportunities for professional advancement (workshops, formal education, certificates, mentoring, etc.) and that there is funding in the organization’s budget for professional development in the fundraising department although the comments reflected that the funding is limited.

The majority of the Baby Boomer respondents plan to retire between the ages of 65-69 and they think the younger staff members will be ready to take on their leadership role at PPH when they retire. The majority (57%) of Baby Boomer felt that the younger staff has the appropriate training and experience to take on roles of leadership at PPH in the next couple of years. They also agreed that the younger generations need to prepare themselves for these leadership roles by gaining additional experience (100%), taking fundraising training workshops (57%), and gaining a higher position (14%).

I commend the Foundation for positively supporting the younger generations and believing that they can take on the roles of leadership.

If your organization is struggling with older leaders and Boards who are blind to a generation of potential leaders right under their noses, it may be time to redefine their image of leadership. We have become accustomed to the older, white male Executive Director. Diversity and age are often the biggest barriers to changing the image of leadership. In the US, only 17% of Executive Directors are people of color.  Two solutions:

  1. Hire from within your organization; find the younger talent and promote them
  2. Hire diverse leaders

Is your organization conducting succession planning?  Is it raising leaders from the younger generations?

Do you know of a nonprofit who is led by a Gen X or Yer?  Please let me know as we may want to include their story in the book.

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