More than 100 affiliates of United Way have new chief executive officers (CEO) in place since the start of 2018. Considering that there are more than 1,100 affiliates in the United States, that might not sound like a lot but more than one-third of the departures are the result of retirements that have already taken effect or have been announced.
Whether it’s a canary in the coal mine that Baby Boomers are starting to leave the industry remains to be seen but a compilation of media reports and press releases by Exempt Magazine estimates that 121 CEO positions at United Ways of all sizes have turned over since the start of 2018 or will this year. About half of the largest affiliates by fundraising in 2018 have seen their CEOs step down since the start of last year.
United Way Worldwide (UWW) officials said the organizations doesn’t track CEO turnover among affiliates. According to a spokeswoman, turnover can be estimated for 2017 and 2018 at around 12 and 13 percent. Small affiliates are sometimes one-person shops or the board and one administrator or a bookkeeper There are almost 100 United Way affiliates run solely by boards, according to Amy Dinofrio, vice president of human resources at UWW, making it difficult to track turnover.
According to the “2019 Noprofit Organizations Salary and Benefits Report” by Exempt Magazine and Bluewater Nonprofit Solutions, the average tenure of a nonprofit CEO was almost 13 years. Overall turnover was about 12 percent, according to the study.
Specifically within the public-society benefit subsector where United Way resides, CEO tenure was 11.5 years. Tenures generally were longer at large organizations, with less than eight years at nonprofits with budgets of less than $500,000 and more than 18 years at organizations between $25 million and $50 million. Since 2010, CEO tenures typically have been longer than a decade at organizations of at least $1 million, according to Exempt Magazine research on the sector generally.
It’s important that non-profits be intentional about their leadership plan. Heather Eddy
Most all of the executive director searches since the start of 2018 by Naperville, Ill.-based KEES/Alford Executive Search have been the result of retirements, according to President and CEO Heather Eddy. What’s happening at United Way affiliates isn’t likely any different than retirements from other nonprofits. “It’s widespread across the sector — but it’s an easy one to aggregate because United Way is so well known,” she said.
There’s not a lot of new data on executive turnover or retirements, Eddy said, pointing back to The Bridgespan Group’s 2006 research that predicted that as many as 640,000 new senior managers would need to be hired in the nonprofit sector within 10 years of the report being published.
Baby Boomers naturally aging might be a source of turnover and retirements could be impacted by a good economy as people step down while their retirement funds are still intact, before a recession potentially disrupts the markets and, in turn, 401(k) plans.
Eddy said her firm has done more projects around job and growth coaching the past several years but those second- level leaders are still few and far between. “The way United Ways are structured, unless they’re large, there are not many No. 2s at United Ways,” she said.
It’s important that nonprofits be intentional about their leadership plan, Eddy said. Even if an executive director is only approaching age 60, it’s critical to talk about leadership. “Most boards still shy away from that issue because it’s a difficult issue,” she said.
Building Future Leaders, a project of The Bridgespan Group, aims to get nonprofit leaders thinking about future leadership needs and to identify competencies. “How do you begin to assess and develop your people to fill those leadership gaps that you’ll have in two or three years,” said Kirk Kramer, a partner at The Bridgespan Group and co-author of the 2013 paper, “Nonprofit Leadership Development: What’s Your Plan A for Growing Future Leaders.”
“A general recognition these days is that it’s a real weakness. We don’t have processes in place and systems of how to do this well,” he said. In talking to CEOs and executive teams, Kramer said this is something that nonprofit leaders need to get better at, realizing there’s been a huge gap.
I don’t know that we are any better or worse than any other industry…graying of the professional and managerial class. Milton Little
This summer will mark 12 years that Milton Little has served as CEO of the United Way of Greater Atlanta. “I don’t know that we are any better or worse than any other industry that is facing the same thing,” Little said, where there is a graying of the professional and managerial class. Certainly it’s been an issue we’ve talked about at the local level. We’ve put procedures in place around succession and there’s been encouragement from United Way Worldwide to be planful in those ways,” he said.
UWW invites new affiliate CEOs to its Alexandria, Va., headquarters each January for a three-day leadership conference called the New Presidents Forum (NPF). The forum typically attracts 70 to 75 attendees, according to Dinofrio. The physical event was launched in 2014 but UWW has been offering resources and tools to new chief executives for years.
Webinars continue throughout the year after the forum on a variety of topics, ranging from human resources and diversity to marketing and the United Way brand. There also are five e-learning modules that touch on broad topics but are helpful for first-time employees, she said, and also have sections specifically for CEOs.
Based on feedback from participants, the forum has evolved to include more networking opportunities and exercises amid an effort to get them with colleagues of similarly-sized affiliates, Dinofrio said. Sometimes the answers to their questions can be found with colleagues in another state, she said, pointing to the experiences of Houston’s affiliate after Hurricane Harvey helping affiliates in North Carolina when they were hit by Hurricane Florence.
“No year is the same. There are different world situations, different economic situations in their local communities,” Dinofrio said, United Way often is a leader in its community and sometimes answers can be found at colleagues in an other state. “It’s something you can’t get anywhere else.”
You don’t get that (United Way) kind of experience in a lot of places. Sean Garrett
Sean Garrett credits his start to the United Way Community Fellows program, where he spent a year learning on the job at the United Way of Dane County in Wisconsin. As a 25-year-old, he found himself working with corporate CEOs on some of the biggest challenges facing communities. “You don’t get that kind of experience in a lot of places. I got to be able to be part of that work,” he said. He left Charlotte, N.C.-based United Way of Central Carolinas last year after almost four years as executive director to become CEO at United Way of Metro Chicago.
A combination of more traditional conferences and learning opportunities can help you train on tactical, specific skills and on-the-ground exposure that’s hard to replicate what it’s like in community with corporate CEOs, neighbors and residents working on key issues.
Joanne Troutman has been president and CEO at Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way (GSVUW) in Sunbury, Pa., for about four years. She has been recruited to go elsewhere for more money but has no plans to leave because of several projects she plans to shepherd. That’s not to say she’ll be there forever. “My leadership philosophy — and I think it’s a lot of people in my generation — you don’t want to get to a point at which you jump the shark. Nobody ever wants to stay and wear out their welcome yet communities need stability,” she said, describing herself as part of Generation X. Troutman previously worked at a hospital for five years and spent nine years at a university. “I came to a communitybased organization because I wanted to be closer to the mission,” she said.
Smaller United Ways can’t afford to pay an executive what other nonprofits can. Joanne Troutman
Smaller affiliates often become stepping stones for people, either to a larger job at United Way or to another nonprofit. “Smaller United Ways can’t afford to pay an executive what other nonprofits can. Right now, we’re competing with local hospitals for development staff,” Troutman said. “It’s just the nature of the nonprofit world,” she said, and people can earn a lot more money fundraising at a hospital than at a community organization.
People leave their jobs for any number of reasons: higher salary, less stress, relocation, or something more personal.
Jon Fine is retiring after 18 years as CEO of United Way of King County. The Seattle, Wash.-based affiliate routinely is among the highest-revenue affiliates in the UW system. He described his decision to retire as a natural course of events.
Life is finite and you can’t do these things forever Jon Fine
“Life is finite and you can’t do these things forever. We’ve gone through a successful transformation. It felt like the right time,” Fine said.
“United Ways have had to transform themselves because workplace giving is not as widespread, it’s not growing,” Fine said.
“United Ways are capable of transforming; we in Seattle have illustrated that,” he said, now oriented more toward individual giving, affinity groups and events. “United Ways can continue to raise significant amounts of money but they have to do it in new ways. That transformation is not always easy, sometimes it leads to turnover,” said Fine, who joined United Way from running a local Red Cross chapter after three years as a stay-at-home dad. Previously, he was treasurer of Puget Sound Bank.
Turnover might be up a little but not unnaturally, Fine said. These are stressful, volatile times, he said, and that creates turnover. “Certainly, there’s burnout in the nonprofit world,” Fine said, adding that expectations are higher and problems exist while often the financial or technology resources that people want might be lacking, which does sometimes lead to burnout.
“The recession certainly created volatility and competition has created volatility. I don’t think those trends are ending, I do think there are ways of successfully dealing with them as we’ve proven in Seattle,” Fine said.