May 14, 2009

Meeting Future Leadership Needs Will Require Multiple Pathways for Diverse Leadership

In this commentary on the 2009 Bridgespan Group report, Finding Leaders for America's Nonprofits, President and CEO Carol Larson of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation stresses the importance of tapping and developing multiple pathways to finding talent to meet tomorrow's nonprofit leadership needs.

By: Carol Larson

A commentary on Finding Leaders for America's Nonprofits

For 45 years the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has been dedicated to improving the lives of children, advancing reproductive health, and promoting conservation and restoration of the earth’s natural systems. In both business and philanthropy David Packard believed in the transformative power of individual leadership. He recognized then, as we do now, that our success at the Foundation is dependent upon working in partnership with strong nonprofit organizations led by visionary and skillful leaders.

Today, as we face one of the deepest and longest economic recessions in recent memory, the importance of strong nonprofit leadership cannot be overstated. The societal challenges we face are urgent and complex, both global and local in scale, and adversely affected by the economic downturn. As resources tighten, foundations and other nonprofits are reimagining how we do our work as we are faced with the need to do more with less.

Related Content

Download the report Finding Leaders for America's Nonprofits [PDF]

Read the executive summary

Download a collection of the commentaries [PDF]

Three years ago, the Bridgespan Group brought to light the looming leadership deficit in the nonprofit sector. Contrary to what economic trends might predict, this latest Bridgespan report demonstrates that the leadership deficit is still with us. However, while the need is great, the opportunity to strengthen nonprofit leadership has never been greater.

Meeting tomorrow’s leadership needs in nonprofits will require providing multiple pathways and tapping into a diverse pool of talent. Most certainly this includes encouraging the interest of, and breaking down barriers for, leaders with for-profit experience to bring their experience and skills to bear in the nonprofit sector. Our Foundation is proud to have been an early supporter of Bridgestar in these efforts. It will also require us to pay more attention to creating a flow of talent among nonprofits and to developing career ladders and leadership training for the many talented individuals already working in the sector. As we do both, it will be important to keep a focus on diversity, making sure that we tap into leadership across race and ethnicity and capture the talent and passions of both young, emerging leaders as well as seasoned leaders who have much more to give.

Nonprofits will also benefit from the current renaissance in civic engagement. Even short of working full time in the nonprofit sector (and often in preparation for doing so), there are many ways for talented individuals to contribute and learn. Volunteerism is soaring, pro-bono consulting and legal services programs are emerging as critical resources for nonprofit organizations, and many “boomers” in their 50s and 60s are embarking on retraining for “encore careers” in the social sector. We need to encourage opportunity and innovation in each of these areas.

During this time of uncertainty and crisis, the charge of the nonprofit sector is not an easy one. However, tough challenges require new thinking, willingness to experiment and innovate, flexibility to engage across sector boundaries, and foresight to engage the best talent from all sources to meet the charge. This report gives us insight and direction on how that can be done, and we are grateful for Bridgespan’s continued focus on this critical issue.

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