Foreign Policy Blogs

Ready to Lead

Michelle Obama's comments last night at the Democratic National Convention focused on “values” – the values with which she was raised and the values she hopes to pass to her daughters.  Amidst the comments on Hilary Clinton's 18-million-cracks-in-the-glass-ceiling, mention of the historical significance of the convention's timing (anniversaries of the 19th Amendment and MLK Jr's “I have a dream” speech), and her own decision to leave the law office to work in public service – my mind started swirling around the “next generation” in philanthropy. 

For the past few years, the sector has increasingly discussed the lack of leadership that the non-profit and philanthropic sectors will face when the baby boomers begin retiring.  Commentaries abound on the internet here, here, and from Canada's sector here.  Websites aimed at young professionals in philanthropy including YNPN, FLiP, and EPIP are striving to provide resources to the prepare the next generations of non-profit, philanthropy, and grant making leaders.  Additionally, conferences such as Nonprofit 2020 are trying to give voice to those who are seeking to become the next leaders.

Earlier this year, the Meyer Foundation in partnership with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and published a survey of emerging nonprofit leaders, the largest to date.  The result was Ready to Lead which asked nearly 6,000 next generation leaders how they foresee the upcoming leadership challenges and opportunities within the sector.  While the survey addressed potenial barriers, including work-life balance, compensation, and professional develop – it was illuminating that one in three respondents aspire to be an Executive Director (ED) someday and 40% of these respondents say they are ready now or within the next five years to take up this leadership role.

While many of the articles and blogs published on this topic give light to the problem the sector is facing – there are still few concrete examples being shared on how organizations are internalizing and strategically applying this information.  I’m on a hunt to find these examples. 

Still, Ready to Lead is clever in its format, giving current non-profit ED's, the next generation, Funders, Board of Directors, and Leadership Capacity Builders some tangible steps to follow.  Coming from the next generation perspective, these recommendations empower us to take the next steps.  We become accountable for the success of the sector – we become leaders ensuring its future.  It's much better than continuing the melancoly warnings of demise.

With all of that in mind, Hilary is on the stage tonight and this lesson is in her story as well.  We must make the space for new leaders to emerge.