How to Develop Leadership Within Nonprofits

By QuickBooks Canada Team

3 min read

If your nonprofit is like many in Canada, leadership turnover is a big concern. In the 2012 study, Driving Change: A National Study of Canadian Nonprofit Executive Leaders, the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector found that more than half of the executive directors surveyed planned to leave within four years. What’s more, nonprofits weren’t prepared for the change in leadership; 72% of board members reported their organization did not have a succession plan in place. If that sounds like your organization, one solution is to develop leaders from within; by grooming your current staff for more responsibility, you can have a pool of competent, capable people ready to apply when job openings arise.

Career Planning

Career planning is a crucial part of internal leadership development. Before your staff members can move up through the ranks of your nonprofit, they must know about the opportunities that are available to them. To start, sit down with employees and ask about goals. Explain the different career paths throughout your organization, and work together to choose one that seems promising. Based on that plan, you can identify skills, experiences, and training that the employee needs to progress. These one-on-one conversations help you build personal connections and make it easier to pick out employees who are motivated and enthusiastic.

On-the-Job Training

Your nonprofit probably has a full workload and a tight budget, which doesn’t leave much time or money for training. Stretch assignments are a cost-effective way to develop new leaders. They help your staff build new skills and keep your projects on track. For the most efficient on-the-job training, pick tasks based on your nonprofit’s leadership needs and the employee’s career plan. Fundraising, financial management, public relations, and planning are great places to start. Then, provide gradual exposure. If a promising staff member needs planning experience, ask that person to sit in on the next strategy meeting. Over time, you can ask him or her to analyze potential initiatives and draft sections of the strategic plan.

Mentoring

According to the 70-20-10 Model for Learning and Development, you can apply a simple formula to leadership development. Seventy percent is on-the-job training, and 10% is based on formal educational methods, such as training. The remaining 20% is interactions with other professionals, more commonly known as mentorship. Mentors can do wonders for your up-and-coming workers. They can provide insight, help younger staff learn the ropes faster, and teach skills and principles. In a busy nonprofit, senior staff are often too busy for a full-blown mentoring program. Instead, you might try building a relationship in smaller, less formal bursts of time. Ask a supervisor to monitor one stretch assignment, or pair an older worker with a new employee on a new project.

Current Leader Involvement

When you are developing employees from within, it’s important to get buy-in from your senior management. These current leaders are a wealth of information; in smaller nonprofits, they may be the sole resource for certain tasks and facts. By involving them, you can increase knowledge sharing and make them feel valued. Consider asking your executive director to observe staff and pick out promising candidates, or request he or she involve a high-performing program director in strategic planning. Your board of directors should also be involved in your leadership development efforts. According to the “Driving Change” study, executive directors who felt supported by their board were more likely to express job satisfaction. When your board has a role in nurturing talented employees, it creates a foundation for a supportive relationship when those employees become leaders. Internal nonprofit leadership development creates consistency and stability so your organization can focus on its mission. By cultivating your best workers, you can ensure there is always someone ready to take the reins.

References & Resources

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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