Young Nonprofit Leaders Concerned About Pay, Work-Life Balance, Report Finds

Although a diverse pool of committed young people would like to be nonprofit executive directors in the future, many of them say there are significant barriers to realizing that ambition, a new report from the Meyer Foundation finds.

Based on a national survey of nearly six thousand "next generation" leaders — the largest such survey to date — the report, Ready to Lead: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out (36 pages, PDF), found that young nonprofit staff are concerned that challenges such as work-life balance, insufficient lifelong earning potential, a lack of mentorship, and overwhelming fundraising responsibilities may prevent them from becoming nonprofit executives.

According to the study, which was conducted by the foundation in partnership with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Idealist.org, 64 percent of respondents have financial concerns about committing to a career in the sector, while only one-third aspire to become executive directors. Of those with such aspirations, 40 percent said they are ready now or will be within five years to take on such responsibilities. The survey also found that only 4 percent of nonprofit staff are being groomed to become their organization's leader, and that women are less likely to be developed as leaders than are men.

The sector's struggle to retain talent could have a dramatic effect on social services around the country, said Paul Light, a professor at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. "It's really a significant problem and one that is just so important to the future of the sector," Light told the Washington Post. "Nonprofits are so focused on meeting their mission in the present tense, they don't think of succession planning for executive directors, they don't think of recruitment for future employees. It's just not on the agenda because they're under such pressure to deliver, especially during economic downturns like this."

Philip Rucker. "Crunch Predicted in Nonprofit Sector." Washington Post 03/03/2008. "Young Leaders Concerned With Pay, Work-Life Balance, Report Says." Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation Press Release 03/03/2008.