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Study: Nonprofit Managers Eyeing The Door

By Samuel Fanburg - June 27, 2011

More than two-third of nonprofit executives say they will leave their jobs within the next five years and only one-fifth think their boards are doing a good job.

Some 7 percent of nonprofit executives said at some point already this year they have given notice of their intention to leave. The survey shows 26 percent of organizations downsized during the previous year, with 45 percent of nonprofit executives expressing happiness in their current position.

These are among the results from a new study published by a partnership of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Meyer Foundation called “Daring to Lead 2011: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership.”

Results from 3,000 respondents showed that nonprofit executives remain optimistic about their own position. But, they believe that boards of directors are unprepared to select new leaders and are still cautiously budgeting their money for program expenses following the recession.

According to the report, just 17 percent of reporting organizations have a documented success plan, with just one-third (33%) of executives expressing confidence that the board would hire an appropriate successor. When new leaders were appointed, 52 percent identified themselves as happy during the “honeymoon” period of one year, while only 37 percent described themselves as happy from years one through three.

Only 16 percent of executives reported spending fewer than five hours per month on board-related activities, half believing they were spending the correct amount of time. The largest group of executives (39 percent) reported spending five to 10 hours a month with their boards of directors. Just 20 percent of leaders described themselves as very satisfied with their boards performance however, as 38 percent of executives expressed confidence in their own efforts to influence their boards’ performance.

In regard to professional development, executives indicated several ways to enhance capacity of their position. Of those using these development techniques, 40 percent responded that executive coaching was “very effective,” in education, while 7 percent believed nonprofit management and certification programs were the least effective in growing capacity.

As a by-product of the recession, 65 percent of executives think significant levels of recession-related anxiety remain. This percentage corresponded with the amount of cash reserves on hand. Some 33 percent of executives with less than one month of reserves reported high-recession related anxiety, as opposed to 15 percent among executives with six months or more.

Challenges of scheduling for future plans is even worse when looking at the experiences of new leaders and leaders of color. Some 32 percent of new executives found only one month of operating reserves, whereas 28 percent of people-of-color-led organizations were “severely impacted” by the recession.

And even among challenges and difficulties stemmed by the recession, nonprofit executives still feel invigorated and optimistic about their profession. A majority (65 percent) of leaders reported little or no burnout, 47 percent reporting finding a balance between their work and home life. However, 70 percent of executives felt some degree of loneliness in this leadership role.

In terms of leadership structures, 57 percent of executives indicated they enjoyed a shared leadership role with an inclusive and collaborative atmosphere, in addition to 31 percent of executives expressing involvement in an explicit mentoring relationship.

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