Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 32 seconds

Brain-Drain-NewThe U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that 50.6 million jobs will open between 2012 and 2022; of those, 62 percent will be a result of baby boomers’ retiring. One third of New England's nonprofit leaders alone say they plan to leave their jobs in the next two years, and approximately two-thirds anticipate leaving within five years. As baby boomers age out of their leadership positions at nonprofits, these organizations are looking to the next generation to take the reins - but is that generation ready?


Handing the torch over to a new leader is a complicated process, but there are ways to avoid the stress that comes with attracting and onboarding a new chief. At the same time, there are hundreds of thousands of millennials now in the workforce, who can offer new outlooks, skill sets, and values that can prove highly beneficial for nonprofit organizations in a state of transition.

Preparing the board for change
Change is never easy. But if the correct steps are taken, a shift in leadership doesn’t need to be daunting. First and foremost, before passing the torch, the board must be prepared for the changes coming down the line.

For most nonprofits, the board is their North Star: it steers the organization towards a sustainable future and ensures that it has access to the resources necessary to survive and thrive. As nonprofit leaders prepare to leave their posts, preparing the board is a critical task. There are a few steps to take in order to make a successful change in operational management. These include developing a succession plan for the next leader, building a solid list of candidates who have been groomed to take over the role, and ensuring funds are available for a search process if necessary.

The skills needed for successful succession
Once your board is primed for change, the process to replace a leader begins in earnest, and the last thing you want to do is settle. It’s important to ensure leaders have a curated skillset that will allow them to successfully run the organization in today’s digital world. According to insights from nonprofit professionals, important skills to look for in new leaders include:

  • Traditional management/business skills: Arguably the most important skill, nonprofit leaders must keep the lights on while successfully hiring and retaining staff.

  • Relationship-building: Leaders must be able to maintain strong relationships with donors, foundations, government officials and other nonprofits.

  • Collegiality: Servant leadership, or at least a collaborative/empathetic leadership style, will instill trust among peers and open and honest work relationships from the bottom up.

  • Ability to multitask: Especially at smaller nonprofits, this skill is critical. A willingness to be a jack-of-all-trades can make or break a nonprofit leader’s ability to succeed.

  • Fundraising basics: This includes traditional, direct mail, social media, Web-based, grant-writing, etc.

  • Tech savvy: Whether or not nonprofits err on the side of the traditional, they’re operating in an increasingly digital world. Leaders must be tech savvy enough for fundraising initiatives, donor communications, marketing, branding, and more.

  • Strategic thinking: Leaders must be able to foresee and adapt to change.

  • What millennials can bring to the table
    The hard skills aside, there are significant benefits that a millennial leader could bring to your nonprofit organization. As digital natives, millennials are innately savvy about social media and technology. And bringing a millennial on board can breathe new life into an organization. It’s easy to fall into a routine when the same leadership has been in place for years on end. Millennials have fresh outlooks, unique ideas, and different ways of thinking that can be of great value to a nonprofit organization.

    Not to mention, according to the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey, millennials seek mission-driven careers that allow them to do purposeful, influential, and societal good. Leadership positions in a nonprofit are the perfect place for millennials to thrive and the organization to follow suit.

    As nonprofits nationwide enter a time of uncertainty following the retirement of baby boomers, these organizations should shake off their fears and embrace the great opportunity that this shift provides. As the nonprofit landscape continues to change (and the skillsets required for success change alongside it), looking to the next generation could be the bright new horizon for many mission-driven organizations.


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