Assuming the impending nonprofit workforce crisis is real and not imagined, we have some work to do. The latest report on the subject, Ready to Lead: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out,* reviews the various factors that will make nonprofit leadership recruitment more difficult in the years to come. Large numbers of retiring Baby Boomers and the money worries of Gen Xers and Gen Yers will constrain the supply of would-be leaders even as we’re drawn into an all-out “war for talent” with the government and business sectors.

It remains to be seen if market forces will, as some predict, smooth out the bumps in the road ahead. It’s possible that with more openings in the leadership ranks, more young people will look for careers in the nonprofit sector. Sector leaders may also rally and create new training programs and new incentives for charitable work.

We’ll see.

I would certainly worry less about the impact of this impending crisis if the sector were, in general, better bankrolled.  Instead we operate in an environment of chronic scarcity. We don’t make the necessary investments in mentoring promising young talent or take the steps needed to retain current leaders because so many things appear to make greater demands on our limited resources.

If there’s a theme that runs through these various workforce reports, it might be something like this: Because it’s so hard to raise charitable dollars, those of us who direct the work of the sector—current executive directors and board members, in particular—are frequently tempted to try to get good talent on the cheap; but our investments in staff are the absolute last places we should be looking to cut costs.

It used to be that if one applicant turned up his nose at a nonprofit job, there’d be three waiting in the wings to apply.  We’re moving into an era when the demographics will turn against us.


* I was one of the authors of this report together with Marla Cornelius of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and Patrick Corvington of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. I serve as vice president for programs and communications at the Meyer Foundation, one of the report’s primary sponsors.


Albert Ruesga is vice president for programs and communications at the Meyer Foundation in Washington, DC.  He’s the managing editor of the White Courtesy Telephone blog.