Although nonprofit CEOs and other senior officers are actively engaged in leadership development, they are rarely held accountable for development and do not invest sufficient resources in development. These were some of the results of a survey conducted by The Bridgespan Group (Bridgespan), a nonprofit consultancy headquartered in Boston, Mass., with offices in New York City and San Francisco, Calif.
More than 225 nonprofit leaders answered the 31-question Leadership Development Diagnostic survey. Questions were phrased as statements such as: “Our organizational culture supports and values leadership development.” Possible answers were “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “agree,” “strongly agree” and “not applicable.
Leadership development, according to Bridgespan Partner Kirk Kramer, is “the identification and preparation of individuals who will lead the critical functions of an organization and who…will be responsible for the overall health and impact of the organization.” An effective leadership development plan involves engaging senior leaders, understanding future needs, developing future leaders, hiring externally, and monitoring and improving practices, he said.
Some 70 percent of respondents said their CEO is engaged in development, 64 percent indicated senior leadership is engaged, and 69 percent said their organization’s culture supports leadership development. Board members lag far behind in engagement, with 37.9 percent of the respondents saying their boards are engaged.
Though leaders are often engaged, only 43.7 percent said their leaders were recognized for their engagement. Even fewer, 35.9 percent, are held accountable for leadership development. Resources, too, are largely lacking, with 41.5 percent of organizations investing sufficient resources in development.
Most nonprofits don’t understand their needs for future leadership, according to the survey. Just under half of the surveyed organizations (49.8 percent) evaluate their staff in terms of performance and potential. Only 38.7 percent have a view of where their leadership might be headed in the next three to five years. Fewer (36.6 percent) have successors identified, and fewer still (27.6 percent) have plans to address potential succession gaps in leadership.
About two-thirds, or 64.5 percent, say that on-the-job leadership development is strong, but less than half (46.3 percent) have sufficient formal training, and 43 percent had enough mentoring and coaching of future leaders. And, only 28.5 percent of these future leaders have development plans of their own.
The study also found that nonprofits attract external hires to fill leadership gaps. Three-quarters said external candidates are attracted to their organizations. Slightly fewer — 72.8 percent — have effective screening process, but about 60 percent said on-boarding, or transitioning employees into new roles, and integration is done well at their organizations. Due to these challenges, fewer than one-third of respondents have clear leadership development goals, and fewer than one-quarter collect data to track progress.
Kramer said respondents cited “time, money, mixed capability and commitment from current leaders” as barriers to leadership development. “We as a sector have a tendency to think of leadership development and succession planning as a one-time exercise,” he said. “But…the organizations that build leaders efficiently and effectively are doing so by making pipeline development part of their everyday business.”