After years of relative stability, the leadership of America’s nonprofit sector is on the verge of a major transformation. During the next two decades, the vast majority of today’s nonprofit leaders will seek new roles, new careers or retire.
Members of the Baby Boom generation are now 72 percent of all nonprofit leaders, according to a 2004 survey of the sector by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. One-third are either founders or longtime executives of their organizations. But the study predicts that these leaders will leave their posts in two waves—and the first wave is now underway. The second will begin in 2010 and peak in 2020, when all but the youngest Boomers reach retirement.
“In order for it to be a seamless, smooth transition and not a crisis, it’s incumbent on all of us who are leaders in the nonprofit sector to begin some highly focused and intentional succession planning,” says Roxanne Spillett, President of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and an instructor in the College’s Master of Nonprofit Administration program.
For Spillett, this means identifying up-and-coming leaders within organizations, matching them with mentors, and investing in their professional development. The next generation will need practical skills in fundraising, finance, strategic planning, and board development. They must also possess a passion for mission and the ability to engage and inspire others.
One leader who is already thinking about his own transition is Phil Baniewicz, a student in the MNA program. As one of the founders and president of Life Teen, an Arizona-based nonprofit, Baniewicz oversees Catholic youth ministry programs in 1,000 parishes and 19 countries.
Baniewicz founded Life Teen at his parish in 1985 and has nurtured its phenomenal growth over two decades. At the ripe old age of 40, he says his goal is to train someone—someday—to take his job.
“Change is good,” says Baniewicz.
Nonprofits will still have to compete with government and business to attract young leadership talent, but Spillett argues that
nonprofit work provides “tremendous psychic rewards” that will draw many. As veterans of the nonprofit sector step down, former business executives may step in as CEOs, board members, volunteers, and fundraisers.
Baniewicz sees the same trend. “Look at most of the people who have been successful in business—as they get older, what do they do? They start finding ways to give it away; they start doing nonprofit work,” he says. “As nonprofits, we have the edge, actually.”