We Need New Leaders!
Dear Governance Matters,
Our nonprofit organization is having trouble recruiting new leadership. Some of the board members are in their 20s and early 30s, and some are in their late 40s, 50s and older.
The younger ones say they aren't ready to assume the responsibilities of leadership. They balk at becoming vice-chairs, which leads to becoming chair. They are finishing grad school, getting married, and starting careers so feel too busy to add another commitment.
The older ones have already done their stint as chair and don't want to do it again. We are trying to get some middle-aged people on the board, but it will take a few years for anyone be trained enough to be chair.
Our board members are devoted to the organization, but how can we imbue them with the willingness to assume the responsibility of leadership or at least to try it out as vice chair?
What a great question! This is one of the more difficult tasks for a nonprofit, but it really is about an organization's ability to promote leadership "from within" from the start and should be an ongoing value/goal of the board.
That said, there are some practical solutions that might work:
- How about "co-chairs" for various committees? It's a good way to promote leadership and prepare people to take on more responsibility. Perhaps an "oldie" and a "newbie" as co-chairs or even two "newbies" who could collaborate and help each other learn.
- Use board leadership as the starting point for a discussion at a board retreat:
- "What does leadership mean to our organization?"
- "Why do some people offer to take a leadership position, and others do not?"
- "What's scary about taking a leadership position in our organization?"
- Add taking on leadership to your list of "board expectations," i.e., "Board members are encouraged to take on a leadership position after their first term ... " Of course, developing this policy will also require a board discussion, which may be illuminating and reveal some solutions.
- Send potential board leaders to a leadership development course at a local support centers for nonprofit management/leadership/board development.
- Have a consultant talk with the board about the advantages of younger people "practicing" leadership within their nonprofit, and how the experience they gain will be beneficial in their paid work. Nonprofit board leadership does add gravitas to a resume.
- Have TWO people share the responsibilities of the chair. This arrangement requires that the board and the individuals develop job descriptions and responsibilities ahead of time: who will do what and what responsibilities they'll share. Of course, it also requires their ability to communicate effectively and often!