2012 Trends and Predictions: Executive Transition

This week I’m looking back upon 2011 for major trends, and then looking forward to 2012 with an eye towards making a few predictions. Today, we are looking at non-profit executive leadership.

Back on July 22nd, my post at DonorDreams blog was titled “I Quit” and it started off with a look at the Philanthropy Journal’s article titled “Exodus of executive directors expected“. This article cited a study by the Meyer Foundation and CompassPoint Nonprofit Services that reported: 67-percent of non-profit executive directors surveyed said they plan to leave their jobs sometime in the next 5-years.

Ever since writing that blog post, I’ve kept my eyes open for evidence of this trend, and I must admit that I see indicators everywhere pointing to:

2012 will be a year of transition for many non-profit executive directors.

In the fall of 2007, our world changed when the stock market crashed, our banks failed, and our economy sputtered. Most non-profit organizations were operating with a fundraising model (e.g. an annual resource development plan) that worked well for them in their community and within the parameters of our economy. However, when the economy changed, many nonprofit executive directors and fundraising professionals didn’t change their revenue models, and instead they made the decision to “ride out the storm”.

Well, we’re 4-years into this storm and it is becoming clear that the economy isn’t going to snap back to it original shape. “The New Norm” is coming into focus. The Nonprofit Quarterly did a nice job reporting a few weeks ago when they published “Wisconsin Nonprofits in the Economy’s ‘New Normal’“.

So, what does this have anything to do with nonprofit transition and executive leadership? Quite simply this . . . I’ve been watching many of my nonprofit friends “hold their breath” for the last few years waiting for things to snap back to the way they once were. Here is what I’ve specifically seen:

  • adding another event to bridge revenue gaps
  • writing grants and promising deliverables they never would’ve done previously (e.g. resulting in mission creep and money chasing)
  • continuation of plans to rely on government funding streams
  • laying off program staff and trimming budgets to the bone

During the same period of time, I’ve seen boards of directors failing to evaluate their executive directors and sticking their collective heads in the sand hoping things return to normal before the doors need to be shut.

Let’s get real for just a moment . . . when most boards hired their current executive director years ago, they hired based on skill sets and experiences rooted in the old economy. Now that times have changed, new skill sets and experiences are needed if the organization is going to thrive once again. While it is possible some executive directors have been growing right along side of their non-profit organizations and now possess those skills, I’m quite frankly not seeing that.

It is this observation in addition to the fact that I’m hearing more boards grumble about their executive leadership and many more executive director friends of mine complain about their jobs that leads me to conclude that 2012 will likely bring with it an uptick in resignations and terminations.

The final thing I think will drive this trend is the massive amount of talent currently available in the marketplace. In the past, I can’t count the number of times I heard board members say that changing executive leadership was unthinkable because they didn’t believe they could find anyone better for what they were willing and able to pay. This is obviously no long the case. The job market is awash with tons of talent, and strategic thinking boards will use this unique opportunity to snag talent that they otherwise couldn’t find or afford.

It is this last factor that I believe will likely fuel this potential trend as boards try to realign their people resources and talent with “The New Normal” brought on by a new economic paradigm.

Are you getting tired of your job? Ready to quit? Are you feeling increasing tensions in your board room? How is your non-profit organization re-aligning its resource development model with The New Normal? What skill sets and experiences does a successful executive director and fundraising professional need to thrive and succeed in The New Normal?

Please weigh-in with your thoughts using the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


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