How can nonprofits develop and retain the next generation of leaders to achieve success?
The nonprofit sector includes staff from across the generations, including those representing younger demographics. Emerging leaders are among these young staff. They are not just young in age but new in their careers. It is important to think of something other than the definition of young in chronological terms but also in terms of career length and time spent in leadership roles.
Young leaders who can contribute to a nonprofit’s success are working not just with a focus on pay. Unlike counterparts who may be pursuing careers in the for-profit sector, evidence shows that nonprofit employees work so they can create a positive social impact. Retaining young staff members who have found themselves at nonprofit organizations is essential.
To achieve success, nonprofits should leverage multiple solutions and tactics to drive their mission and create internal systems that are efficient and impactful. Development and retention are key elements to fostering an environment where nonprofit staffs feel valued, embraced, and supported. Below are some practical ways to begin:
Engagement and culture
Try developing a culture committee. Ask yourself if your nonprofit has a culture of consistent feedback and explore ways to capture the attention of young staff who have been impressed with this in the for-profit sector. It is important to tie your mission to staff and do so in a meaningful, consistent way.
Investment in your talent is key to development, especially for young leaders. Nonprofit leaders can seek philanthropy directly tied to internal talent earmarked specifically for staff development. The focus of this solution places emphasis on the importance of resources that are separate from those devoted to the mission. A staff that sees this support is more inclined to stay long-term at a nonprofit, working to carry out critical mission work with a more extended tenure.
Diversify recruitment pipelines
Leverage donors, community supporters, and universities and colleges in the region. Educate them and the public about the professionalism of the nonprofit sector workforce and the community’s crucial role in buoying your workforce.
Informal mentorship or formal programs will provide development opportunities that can increase the number of young leaders and fulfill their desires to further their careers internally. Coaching and even particular delegation of duties can offer priceless moments to the junior staff or younger members of an organization to take on incremental leadership duties.
“Out of the box” benefits
Emphasizing other organizational benefits beyond salary will work to retain young leaders. While budgets are set and dictate salary for more extended periods, nonprofits can work today to provide flexible hours, tuition reimbursements, autonomy over personal schedules, and involvement in mission work. For specific nonprofits, retention can also be impacted positively through performance-based bonuses but should be approached with intention and much thought.
To achieve a better retention rate and preserve the efforts nonprofits have made cultivating their young teams, nonprofits would benefit from the above. Nonprofit teams must look at coaching, empowering, and mentoring the next generation of young leaders to ensure success in the future.
Matt Semler (he/him) is 2022 graduate of the Masters of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University and a member of the Nu Lambda Mu Nonprofit Honor Society. He brings to the table a demonstrated history of working at the intersections of entertainment & sports, philanthropy, and social impact. Matt currently resides in Los Angeles, CA, and is a Foundation team member at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). He’s a contributor to CHLA’s Hollywood Cares for Kids, All-Stars for Kids, and Corporate Sponsorship programs. Before the nonprofit sector, Matt held positions at TOMS Shoes and the charitable online fundraising platform Omaze.
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Illustration by Lillian Finley, ASU Lodestar Center.