Are nonprofits ready for the next generation of leadership?
The generational handover of the nonprofit sector — one organization at a time — is well underway. Take a look around any conference and you’ll see it! An important but dangerously unnoticed difference between baby boomers and the Next generation is that they are strikingly different in “what they don’t know they don’t know.” (Warning: generational generalizations ahead)
In a nutshell: baby boomers came from activist backgrounds (“I’m a child care activist”) and their organizations grew out of movements. They not only didn’t know how to manage, they first had to discover the concept and then why they should learn about it (“HR: what’s that?”).
In contrast, today’s younger managers are completely familiar with management. They know management.
But what don‘t younger leaders know? They don’t how to build movements, to get 100 people to a rally, to make staff or an audience feel called to a cause greater than themselves. They don’t know they don’t know how to build movements, or why they should.
In a speech, Buck Parker of Earthjustice hit the nail on the head (paraphrased): We protect the earth by bringing lawsuits to make government enforce existing laws. But what we didn’t realize is that all these years we have been standing on the shoulders of the environmental movement.
He continued: And that movement is declining. We can’t do our work anymore without working to build that movement. It probably means our metrics will go down because some of our resources will be going to build that movement rather than to win our own cases. But we need that movement the way a tree needs soil. We can’t just benefit from the environmental movement, we have to be a part of it and we have to feed it.
All our organizations stand on the shoulders of movements. If your organization helps children with disabilities, you are standing on the shoulders of the disability rights movement. If your organization does health education, you are standing on the shoulders of the patients’ rights movement.
Different assistance needed for the next generation
Foundations and the capacity-building sector have tooled up for the management needs of baby boomers by fielding programs on HR, on accounting, on strategic planning. But they are typically failing to see the movement-building leadership needs of the next generation. Some leadership programs are addressing this, but too often they focus on management skills (again) and personal attributes (again).
So ask yourself: what movements provide the soil and nutrients for our organization? What are we doing to build and strengthen those movements?
About the Author
Jan is a former editor of Blue Avocado, former executive director of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, and has sat in on dozens of budget discussions as a board member of several nonprofits. With Jeanne Bell and Steve Zimmerman, she co-authored Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability, which looks at nonprofit business models.
Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.