Leadership Begins at Home | npENGAGE

Leadership Begins at Home

By on Feb 8, 2013


Nonprofit management is in crisis.  If action isn’t taken soon by nonprofit Boards, our industry and in some case our entire way of life could be in jeopardy.

While this dire warning is meant to shock and awe, the recent CompassPoint report has really shaken some folks up.  Much ado has been made about the findings yet I don’t want to talk about that.

I want to talk about another report.  One released also by CompassPoint.  In 2006 and in this 2011 CompassPoint report, we were warned.

  1. Without good leadership you can’t function.
  2. Executive leaders are aging out.
  3. We aren’t training new people.
  4. We have a gap that we are not paying attention to.
  5. We will fail.

Pretty scary stuff.  As Winston Churchill warned us “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I challenge you to start learning.

While this is not a step-by-step guide to how to solve these challenges, I encourage you to follow this simple road map.  And it begins at home… with the nonprofit board and the executive leadership recognizing that the predictions are playing out.

Start at home

If you know that your Executive Director has thoughts of leaving or plans for retirement, start as early as possible planning his or her succession. So DON’T “just hire a search firm.”  Look internal first.

Hiring from outside lowers your core competencies – dilutes your mission.  Look at what happened to Apple.  They are struggling to become what they were before their founder’s untimely departure.  Something that was great, doesn’t work anymore.  They had time to plan for succession.  So the tip to you – look inside your organization.  Who are the up and comers?  What can you do to support them?

A key point is that this new generation is not like the old.  They learn differently, communicate differently and want to lead differently.  Embrace it!  Invest in their success with key tools like those offered by management guru, Ken Blanchard.  His online training program will train young executives to lead people – not just manage programs.  And it is very affordable.

Look at the map

Nothing at home?  Then carefully consider looking outside.  But stay true to your community – if possible.  Someone who is very successful on the East Coast may not play very well in San Diego and vice versa.  This is the best time to engage professional counsel to help identify the right markets to recruit.

Fund the trip

You MUST be invested in the growth of your staff and make it a budget line item.  Professional development is no longer a luxury but a must have.  If you don’t want to be part of the next study as another statistic, change your status quo.  Make it a part of your grant writing strategy as well.  Funding is out there if funders can see your commitment.

Leadership is an art.  I am proud to count Ken Blanchard as a friend and mentor and he is a tireless national servant leader.  In one of his many quotes, he said,In the past a leader was a boss. Today’s leaders must be partners with their people…. they no longer can lead solely based on positional power.”  By embracing this spirit, I think that history CAN change.


Debbi Stanley is manager of the Blackbaud client success team. As certified fundraising executive, Debbi has raised more than $15 million for nonprofit agencies and is a recognized expert in strategic, succession and resource development planning. During her nonprofit career, she served in many positions including development director for health and human services agencies and she was a successful consultant teaching nonprofits approaches to organizational development that properly leverage resources for project sustainability. Her expertise in situational leadership and her knowledge of funding strategies has helped hundreds of nonprofits do more for their communities. An avid fan, Debbi is blessed to have two sons who are great athletes at both forms of football – the American and the International version.

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