Just five years from now the last of the baby boomers will turn 60. This cohort, which has largely controlled North American culture, marketing and government policy, is now reaching retirement age. In all industries, the turn over of senior management will be swift. For the non-profit sector, this will present some significant challenges and opportunities.
The traditional model of executive search may not work in the coming years as the baby boomers leave their long-held senior positions in record numbers. The pool of seasoned Executive Directors will become smaller. Organizations may find it challenging to recruit a new leader at the wages they offer. Younger staff may have new ideas. Their ideas may work well but may fail to resonate with older hiring committee members.
If managed correctly, this challenge may be the opportunity to change the way we have operated; to bring new ideas; and to modernize brand and culture. For boards of directors, the time to capitalize on these opportunities, and to mitigate the challenges is well before they receive their Executive Director’s resignation letter.
Organizations should constantly be discussing these questions:
- Do we have internal talent that should be mentored to move into leadership roles?
- Should we change the role of ED by contracting out the administration, while leaving the role of spokesperson, figure head and subject matter expert to an internal candidate who does not want the administrative role?
- Is an interim Executive Director a necessary temporary strategy?
- Is this the right time to merge with another similar group?
Smaller non-profits tend to have very flat hierarchical structures. Staff members who want more challenge or higher paying management roles leave to find these opportunities elsewhere. Staff members who have new ideas that are constantly quashed, leave to find a better cultural fit. It is critical that these talented, ambitious individuals be identified, mentored for the future and encouraged to stay.
Many Executive Directors learned the role of administration the hard way; by trial and error. Often, this administrative work, such as government reporting, work with the auditor, organizing and preparing for board meetings; and formatting budgets; is tedious and frustrating for senior leaders. For many younger workers, this is not a role that they wish to tackle. However, these workers may make fabulous leaders if they have a passion for the cause. When looking to promote from within, it is necessary to ask whether your agency is getting full value from your ED role and whether that role makes the best use of the talent of your senior leader. Would the agency be better served by contracting out some of the administration, and grooming an internal candidate to take on a more public facing, strategy setting leadership role?
As your organization plans for change, it may consider offering an interim executive position to someone with experience who is less interested in a full-time, permanent role. There are experienced leaders who have retired who may be willing to step in temporarily. This may allow your organization the time to train from within or may simply fill a void until a more permanent solution is found.
According to Imagine Canada, there are over 170,000 non-profits in Canada. Approximately 85,000 of these are registered charities. These organizations are competing for donations, talent and even clients. Often historical conflict between factions of an agency led to a split into two or more separate non-profits. As your senior staff member approaches retirement, it may be time to ask, “is there another group that we can join with or rejoin to be stronger?” There are many benefits to amalgamating, including:
- Reduced administration cost for items such as insurance, audit, bookkeeping;
- Shared policies and procedures;
- Stronger combined board of directors;
- Less confusion for members and clients;
- Greater impact through larger membership.
Often boards are stuck on the idea of ownership and autonomy. However, it is important to remember that NPO’s are not “owned.” The board members are merely stewards and their time on the board is usually limited. Eventually, the organization will be stewarded by a new group of people who will make different decisions. An amalgamation simply changes the stewardship more quickly. If your senior leader is approaching retirement, or otherwise signaling that they may be thinking of leaving it is a great time to consider whether there another group doing similar work; and what the potential costs and benefits of amalgamating may be.
This year, the last cohort of baby boomers; those born in 1964 will turn 55. Is your organization going to thrive in the changing environment? Will your mandate survive through joining forces with another group? Or will it become irrelevant or understaffed? Will your clients and membership be left with nothing? Thoughtful planning and an understanding of the rapidly changing Canadian labour market will ensure that the mandate you care deeply about survives.
Thanks to David Hutchinson of Cause Leadership Inc. for his help and ideas for this article. David suggests that “this will be a wakeup call for boards that don’t have awareness of the leadership issues facing our sector.”
Sandra Dunham is the sole-proprietor of Streamline New Perspective Solutions
Streamline New Perspective Solutions offers management consulting services for non-profit organizations. Please visit www.streamlinenps.ca