Executive leadership concerns and how to move forward

Rarely do I post a blog riddled with bullets and statistics. However, upon reading the recently printed “Daring to Lead 2011, A National Study of Nonprofit Leadership” report, I felt compelled to identify key findings within the report conducted through a Joint Project of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Meyer Foundation. While none of these surprise me, as I’ve seen or felt them firsthand, it’s my belief that many leaders within our communities need to recognize these findings as critical. I invite you to read a few of the report’s highlights, including:


Executive transition

  • In the 2006 study, it was found that 9% of executives were in the process of leaving their jobs and that 75% anticipated leaving their jobs within 5 years. Just five years later (in 2011), 7% have given notice and 67% anticipate leaving within five years.
  • Several factors have delayed the rate of executive transitions. For starters, the recession forced older executives to reconsider their transition timing. Across all age groups, 12% reported that a shrinking job market contributed to delay. Another factor influencing turnover timing is the perceived lack of an appropriate successor.


Performance Evaluation

  • 45% of executives did not have a performance evaluation last year. It should be known that without consistent, meaningful engagement in what the job requires, many boards are under-prepared for their critical role in executive transition.


Job Satisfaction

  • Satisfaction with board performance was lowest among leaders on the job between one and three years. Rather than ending with the new hire, it’s recommended that boards provide intentional support and development of staff leadership as they build efficacy in their new executive roles.


Recession Impact

  • The majority of organizations were negatively impacted by the recession. Eighty-four (84%) of leaders reported negative organizational impact. 20% of executives described the negative impact as significant. In the fourth quarter of 2010 when these data were collected, 26% of organizations had downsized.


Fund Development

  • Forty-eight percent (48%) of executives reported that they had someone on their boards who participates in donor identification; 41% had someone who participates in donor cultivation; and 42% had someone who participates in asking for donations. In fact, nearly half of boards (44%) have not even achieved 100% giving, which is a standard expectation of board support.


Board Development

  • Sixteen percent (16%) of executives reported spending fewer than five hours per month on board-related activity, yet nearly half of these executives described themselves as spending the right amount of time. 39% spend between five and 10 hours per month—just 6% of their time overall—and half of these executives said this was the right amount of time. Other studies have found that executives who spend 20% of their time on board-related activity have high rates of satisfaction with board performance.
  • Overall executive satisfaction with board performance was quite low; just 20% of leaders described themselves as very satisfied.
  • Many executives still struggle to define the return on investment (ROI) of board-related activity.


Suggested Next Steps

  • Emergency succession and transition plans to ensure continuity in the event of an unexpected executive departure.
  • A meaningful annual performance review process.
  • Understanding on everyone’s part that financial stability is essential to effective executive transitions.
  • Clearer understanding on the part of executives and boards about the financial condition of their organization, its business model, and the meaning of sustainability.
  • Increased board engagement in fundraising.
  • Support from boards of directors and funders for practices and activities that promote healthy work-life balance as an essential element of professional development and support for executive directors.
  • Recognition by executives of their own important role in helping to improve the performance of the board—and the need to invest their time in identifying and cultivating board members and supporting the board in its work.
  • Development of improved systems for placing and training board members that can address the huge, ongoing demand for skilled and engaged board members.
  • Increased attention and higher expectations of boards and governance from funders, along with funds to help organizations strengthen their boards.


I personally believe we are facing a potentially serious leadership drought within our communities. Whether it’s due to our economic obstacles, transition of generational leadership, or authoritative burnout, it’s incumbent upon all of us to work together to manage or guide the many outstanding non-profit organizations in our communities.


If you’re interested to read the full report, be sure to download it at http://meyerfoundation.org/downloads/Daring-to-Lead-2011-Main-Report-online.pdf. Also, more information can be found at the report’s home website, located at http://daringtolead.org/.


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