PMA Consulting, LLC

High Turnover in Nonprofit Leadership – What Can Be Done?

A recent article in the Charlotte Observer by Mark Price addressed an increase in leadership turnover among the nonprofit sector. Through our work, PMA has seen firsthand the stressful and lonely environments in which an organization’s leader often works.  

We’ve identified three key issues that seem to be at play:

  1. The economic stress, as described in the Observer article, and the often unrealistic fund-raising expectations put on the Executive Director, without an infrastructure to actually raise sufficient funds.
  2. The diminished and distracted role of nonprofit boards. Board members are stressed by their own professional circumstances, and are less willing and able to help their Executive Director when they most need the help. Many organizations are struggling to assemble volunteer committees to support their campaigns that were much easier to do in the past.
  3. A dramatic turnover rate in the more junior positions. The Executive Director can’t focus on strategic issues like fundraising when their under-staffed organizations feature a revolving door of personnel.

What can we do about it? Given that so many professionals are in transition locally (as the Observer has featured) we need to develop better programs that train these individuals for “lateral entry” into the nonprofit sector. Many from the corporate sector bring good intentions but underestimate the stress and complexity of leading a nonprofit organization.

Charlotte nonprofits also need to better identify and train board members for their roles, which have historically been seen as resume boosts and relatively light work. Just as the corporate sector has seen increased scrutiny of its board practices, the same needs to occur on the nonprofit side.

Finally, local colleges and universities need to continue to promote the nonprofit sector as a viable career alternative, and provide practical references within their curriculum.

According to recent Foundation For The Carolinas data, there are 4,000 nonprofits in the Charlotte region, and the sector will continue to improve compensation and benefits. More talent in the pipeline will not only relieve current Executive Directors’ need for talent, but also provide a greater talent pool for the future as the current generation of nonprofit leaders retire.