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Leadership Development & Nonprofit Careers

Just like in the for-profit world, leadership plays a crucial role within the nonprofit field. However, the nonprofit sector offers unique challenges and rewards. This section focuses on resources and best practices designed to help you be a better nonprofit leader or to help you grow into being in a leadership position.

Daring to Lead...a Study of Nonprofit Leaders

The study Daring to Lead is really worth a read. It provides information about the demographics of nonprofit leaders (e.g., there are more women, but men lead larger organizations and make more money!), salary trends, and job satisfaction. Published in 2011 by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, the researchers interviewed over 3,000 nonprofit leaders to pull together a comprehensive view of the nonprofit leadership sector.

If you are thinking about a career switch into nonprofit management, this study offers a wealth of information and perhaps a red flag on the difficulties of leadership roles in the sector. Many younger people in the nonprofit sector expressed a lack of willingness to step into the role of executive director. The pressures of fundraising, difficulties of working with a board of directors, and long hours of most executives has the next generation asking if there is a way to do things differently.

It is likely that some organizations will choose to merge or be acquired when the current leaders retire. This will increase the number of organizations that are large enough to have leadership teams, so that the burdens of leadership are spread out over several people. There have been organizations that successfully implemented a management model where multiple people take parts of the traditional executive director role. Others are combining virtual workspaces and a high reliance on technology to allow executives to better balance work and family. While the changes that will be created by the next generation of leaders are not altogether clear, this study demonstrates that change will most certainly occur because up-and-coming leaders are going to want to redesign and reinterpret the role of the nonprofit executive.

Leadership Development Strategies

Those working in nonprofits who want to move into leadership roles or those who are in the for-profit sector and think they want to work for a nonprofit should consider these leadership development strategies:

In addition to the above, current nonprofit leaders should consider:

  • 501 Commons' ED Forums include three roundtable discussions led by an experienced executive director. Participants share problems and solutions and trade tips and resources.
  • TableTalks & BoardTalks Peer Learning Group for Executive Leaders provides both a professional development opportunity as well as in-depth connection with peers in the field.
  • Third Sector Company offers a cohort program for board chairs, board leaders and executive directors, focusing on effective nonprofit governance and leadership development. Learn more about Board Chairs Academy.
  • For a more informal way to meet, connect, and commiserate with other EDs, the Executive Director Happy Hour is now a Seattle staple and meets monthly.

Nonprofit Careers

If you are thinking about a career switch into nonprofit management, this article offers a wealth of information and perhaps a red flag on the difficulties of leadership roles in the sector. Before you apply for jobs, if you are transitioning from business to nonprofit, heed the advice of this career coach: 5-Mistakes To Avoid If You Want a Nonprofit Job.

In Washington State and throughout the West and Northwest, there are academic programs that prepare people for leadership roles in the nonprofit sector. Some, like at Seattle University, are stand alone programs. Others are offerings within business schools, and still other academic options are provided within public administration programs, like at the University of Washington. Check out options in the Educational Programs & Resource Centers category, or area of expertise, on our Consultants & Other Nonprofit Specialists page.

If you are looking for information to tell you what the comparable salaries and benefits are for executives and dozens of other common positions, the definitive guide, the Nonprofit Wage and Benefit Survey, is developed by Archbright. The data is primarily from King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, but includes other WA State counties as well.