March 1, 2005

Commentaries: The Nonprofit Sector's Leadership Deficit


The need for senior talent is a recurring theme in our work with clients. Founders of organizations move on; growth brings the need for new functional capabilities; and, as we all know, our nation faces a looming “brain drain” as the first baby boomers are set to retire from full-time positions. Finding the right people to fill leadership roles has always been challenging, but our perception is that it is becoming increasingly difficult.

In 2005, a Bridgespan Group team set out to better understand the landscape of the nonprofit sector’s senior labor market. What we discovered was a stunning gap: a potential need, over the next decade, for more than half a million new nonprofit leaders. And, while some organizations, including our own, are recognizing and beginning to formulate responses, we believe that this is a sector-wide issue that will need our collective attention and support.

The Nonprofit Sector’s Leadership Deficit describes our research and begins to lay out some ideas for discussion and action. In addition to the paper and financial model, we are delighted to be able to provide responses from 14 commentators whose essays reflect different ideas and perspectives on how to begin. We invite you to peruse this material, share it with others as appropriate—and, as always, provide your thoughts and feedback.


Ami Dar, Founder, Action Without Borders – Idealist


The Leadership Deficit: A Response

Ami Dar suggests that solving the deficit includes deeper involvement of funders and boards in the development of nonprofit leaders and a more explicit statement of the management and leadership skills needed for the future. Read more >>

Brian Gallagher, President and CEO, United Way of America


The Nonprofit Sector's Leadership Deficit: A Response

Brian Gallagher points to a greater need for leadership development to help ensure promising external candidates succeed in nonprofit leadership roles and young nonprofit professionals gain the skills and competencies needed to lead their organizations in the future. Read more >>

Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone, Inc.


Working Together on the Leadership Deficit

Geoffrey Canada reflects on what the leadership deficit means to his organization and how he hopes to address it. Read more >>

Jan Masaoka, Executive Director, CompassPoint Nonprofit Services


What About the Market?

Jan Masaoka discusses how the market will likely help fill nonprofit leadership roles and notes that while doing so, the sector should also consider its racial and ethnic diversity in choosing its future nonprofit leaders.Read more >>

Jim Collins, Author, Good to Great and the Social Sectors


The Who Thing

According to Jim Collins, the number one constraint on effective growth of the nonprofit sector is not funding, but the ability to attract, retain and develop enough of the right leaders. Read more >>

Jon Schnur, CEO and Co-Founder, New Leaders for New Schools


Let the Search for Solutions Begin in Earnest

Jon Schnur says time is of the essence when considering the leadership deficit and proposes recommendations on addressing it based on his experience working with fast-growing social enterprises. Read more >>

Kathleen P. Enright, Executive Director, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations


Avoiding a Tragedy of Commons

The demand for nonprofit leaders could quickly outstrip supply, says Kathleen Enright. The situation is particularly compelling for grantmakers, because their success is inextricably tied to the success of the nonprofits they support. Read more >>

Lorie Slutsky, President, New York Community Trust


Response to Bridgespan’s Study

According to Lorie Slutsky, the perception that people who work for charities should get charity wages is hurting the nonprofit sector's ability to recruit needed leaders. Read more >>

Marc Freedman, President and Founder, Civic Ventures


A Treasure Trove of Potential Leadership Talent: The Boomers

Marc Freedman suggests that a new generation of 50- and 60-somethings—who are poised to invent a new stage of life, and of work—can help the sector reduce its leadership deficit. Read more >>

Paul Brest, President, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation


Flexible Support, Tough Love

Funding practices can significantly affect nonprofits' ability to attract talent, says Paul Brest. The importance of strengthening nonprofit leadership suggests that funders should consider general operating support to help organizations' meet their goals. Read more >>

Paul C. Light, Professor, Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, New York University


Reversing the Confidence Deficit

Paul C. Light suggests that a lack of confidence in the nonprofit sector has helped fuel the leadership deficit. He shares ways to make nonprofit leadership more appealing, both to promising candidates and to the pubic, who can help support building nonprofit capacity. Read more >>

Roxanne Spillett, President, Boys & Girls Club of America


It Begins with a Leadership Model and the Discipline of the Board

At the heart of solving the leadership deficit is first understanding the leadership model for the future, says Boys & Girls Club of America's Roxanne Spillett. But as important as this model is to the future of nonprofit leadership, it takes the board to make it come alive. Read more >>

Tom Vander Ark, Executive Director, Education, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation


Building a Viable Civic and Educational Infrastructure: 31 The Essential Role of Nonprofit Leadership in Delivering Results

Tom Van Der Ark suggest that nonprofit organizations have the potential to build the civic and educational infrastructure our children deserve, but only if they have the leadership to achieve their missions. Read more >>

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