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Who's in Charge Here? Retaining the Next Generation in Philanthropy

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Baby boomers are hanging on, and next generation leaders are waiting -- and waiting -- their turn.

According to Trading Power, produced in partnership with the Council on Foundations, Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies' 21/64, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and Resource Generation, this is the first time in history that society is experiencing a delay in leadership transition, as people live longer and retire later. The economic recession has further delayed retirement plans, leaving baby boomers in positions that even they expected to have left by now. And some seasoned leaders are turning to a model of "leadership expansion" rather than "leadership transfer," sharing leadership duties with younger employees. Some retain an executive emeritus role. Others take a sabbatical while potential successors serve in "acting" capacities.

In each instance, the elder leader needs to respect new ideas coming from his or her younger partner, according to the report. If the philanthropic sector fails to tap the next generation's skills and knowledge, the emerging leaders will simply move on to sectors that will.

But would younger workers stay put, even if they had a clear path toward a leadership position? The Pew Research Center's ongoing study, The Millennials, contrasts the attitudes of generation x-ers and millennials with that of aging boomers. Pew finds that expectations about career advancement differ between younger and older workers; millennials in particular are accustomed to the idea that they will -- indeed, must -- find their own path of career advancement. In other words, they may jump among organizations and sectors.

It turns out that the same demographic trends that are driving later retirement within the nonprofit sector are affecting movement of boomers across sectors. On Friday, The New York Times ran a story that explores what boomers are doing with the "bonus decade or three added to the average life span." The article quotes Stanford professor Laura Carstensen: "The culture hasn't had time to catch up. All the added years of life have been put into leisure, and that's crazy." The Times story details an organization called Civic Ventures that is placing longtime managers and professionals from the for-profit world in nonprofit positions uniquely suited to their skills. Opportunities like this point to the positive effects that this "bonus decade or three" from Boomers could have on the nonprofit sector.

But to the extent that the nonprofit world is characterized by more leaders than leadership positions, the notion of offering sabbaticals for executives has gained salience. According to a recent report by Deborah S. Linnell of Third Sector New England and Tim Wolfred of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, sabbaticals allow the next rung of leaders to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities during the director's absence. And they often continue to have enhanced responsibility and authority upon the director's return, sharing leadership tasks. A sabbatical can serve as a dry run for a future transition, according to this report, Creative Disruption.

Jossey-Bass has also published a volume on the subject of nonprofit leadership, collecting previously published articles, research studies and essays from experts in the field -- including Bridgespan's study on the sector's pending "leadership deficit". Edited by Indiana University's James L. Perry, The Jossey-Bass Reader on Nonprofit and Public Leadership stresses the importance of cultivating, sharing and delegating leadership throughout nonprofit organizations.

This is probably true now more than ever as the nonprofit sector grows bigger in size and importance. Part of increasing the sector's impact has to include more investment in the development of its employees.

So, if you find yourself waiting, and waiting, apparently you are not alone. The question is: are the career development opportunities enriching your lives and readying you for the moment when it finally comes?