PMA Consulting, LLC

More Reasons to Focus on Talent Development

One of the key challenges I’ve seen when Patton McDowell & Associates partners with a nonprofit organization is the turnover rate of the development staff.  Recent studies indicate that fundraising positions are turning over almost every 18 months.  This is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that good fundraising is based on a long-term relationship-building.  Adding to the continuity challenge is a recent study that indicates a third of U.S. nonprofit organizations are looking to fill senior manager positions as of January, creating a steeper deficit in the sector’s leadership than originally predicted.

The Bridgespan Group survey of U.S. nonprofit executive directors shows that a leadership deficit forecast in 2006 may have widened last year. Meanwhile, in 2009, despite tightening budgets, nonprofits already foresee a need to fill 24,000 vacant or new roles in areas like finance and fundraising amid increasing management complexity and baby boomer retirements.

The study also shows that bridging the leadership gap will call for recruiting beyond the sector.  Seventy-three percent of the survey’s 433 respondents affirmed they value private sector skills. Yet, despite a tide of corporate layoffs in the managerial ranks, 60 percent also believe they will face a scarcity of qualified candidates.

Key findings of the survey:

  • Top barriers to finding suitable leaders included compensation and difficulty finding executives with specialized skills, as well as competition for the same in-sector talent pool and lack of resources to find or cultivate new leaders.
  • Projected vacancies are largely the result of retirement, since much of the existing leadership is comprised of boomers. Vacancies also stem from new roles being created due to an increase in organizational complexity based on growth in prior years. The need is especially acute in human services and arts organizations.
  • The most important attributes recruiters are seeking not only include relevant experience but also “cultural fit” or shared passion for the mission (68% on average cite fit as a very important asset. That number climbs to 82 percent in the education field).
  • Job boards surpassed external networking for first place as a way to reach candidates, with 49 percent of organizations using job boards versus 44 percent using external networking to identify their candidates.

While short-term activities – particularly related to resource-development – dominate the thinking of most nonprofits, those that are going to succeed in the long-run are making talent development a strategic priority.  Here are a few of the topics I’m discussing with our organizational partners to help them develop a culture of talent development:

1. Always look for talent. Whether you have an opening or not, you should be meeting with candidates and individuals who might become candidates someday.  The odds are great that an opening in your organization is not far off.

2. Provide meaningful volunteer opportunities. There is no better way for a mutual evaluation of “fit” between you and a future employee than actual project work that benefits your nonprofit.

3. Develop the talent you already have.  I’m amazed at how many organizations fail to clearly define the job descriptions for the employees they have, nor provide a meaningful evaluation process or a professional development plan.  If employees don’t see a path for advancement or an interest in the development of their professional skills and experiences, they will find another organization that does.

Let me know if you’d like to discuss the talent development components within your organization: