The Investment Gap


There has been plenty of buzz during the past few years about the deficient leadership development in the nonprofit sector. YNPN Nationals study, Stepping Up, Stepping Out, explored reasons why young professionals leave the sector and suggested ways to cultivate the next generation of leaders. EPIP also presented a useful framework in their Nonprofit Talent and Leadership Development Tool Kit. And now, Im excited to join the conversation about leadership development at YNPN Chicagos upcoming event, Filling the Nonprofit Leadership Pipeline.

So, whats the story anyway? Youve likely heard of the impending leadership gap how there are not enough talented leaders to fill the 640,000 senior management roles that are estimated to be created or vacated by 2016.1

Although certainly a legitimate problem, a recent conversation with Rusty Stahl of the Talent Philanthropy Project taught me leadership gap incorrectly defines the problem because it implies that there are no leaders. Instead, he encouraged me to call it an investment gap we have leaders, but they need to be invested in and prepared for senior management roles. More from Rusty can be found here.
I completely agree. In my four years of serving on the Board of YNPN Chicago, we have constantly met bright-eyed young leaders anxious to give back and make a difference. However, we have also noticed a rapidly fading twinkle in those eyes as the lack of investment leads them to seek other career options. Certainly, there are plenty of other factors that affect retention (and therefore the success of the sector) pay, flexibility, recognition, work/life balance. But frankly, I think nothing is more important than professional growth opportunities and a culture of leadership development and empowerment.

Despite attracting do-gooders, the nonprofit sector is notorious for exploiting young leaders by milking every last drop of their productivity while starving their professional development. Its not enough to attract people to the sector; we need to hold on to them tightly! And although Baby Boomers are not retiring as rapidly as expected, its no less important to invest now in future leaders. We need talented, driven, and committed professionals to ensure the success of our vital social programs.

If you reading this and thinking, Tell me something I dont know, Lindsey, know that I agree. This is all painfully obvious, yet Im not sure the needle is moving. Fortunately, were a network locally of 6,300 and nationally of 50,000, so we dont have to sit by and wait; we can take action.

If you’re an individual, dont be afraid to speak up — advocate for yourself and make a compelling case for why youre worth investing in. You should prepare to provide concrete ideas about how youd like to be engaged at work or what opportunities youd like to pursue. And, if its not working, move on or seek opportunities outside of work (volunteer to gain skills, utilize low-cost trainings such as those offered by YNPN Chicago, or check out some more ideas from the Bridgespan Group here).

The ball is in our court. We can invest in ourselves and our peers and choose to have the hard conversation about our value. We can work together to ensure there are future leaders for our sector and our communities. Let’s do this!

1 The Nonprofit Sectors Leadership Deficit. Thomas J. Tierney. 2006.

IMG_1969Lindsey Fila
Associate Director of Accounting,Heartland Alliance
Lindsey serves as an associate director of accounting at Heartland Alliance, supporting the housing division of Heartland Human Care Services. Prior to joining Heartland Alliance, Lindsey served as Director of Finance and Operationsat Resolution Systems Institute (RSI). Lindsey received her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and plans to continue her education in the future. Lindsey is committed to working collaboratively with other passionate people to identify community problems and devise innovative solutions to help those most in need.