Raising the Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders: Four Steps to Build the Leadership Pipeline
Nonprofits rely heavily on young professionals to carry out their vital functions. From database management to prospect research, from event production to direct marketing, these talented members of your team, with their broad skill sets, are indispensable to the achievement of your mission.
If they decide to move on, change industries, or go back to school, it’s a significant loss to your organization. So, what can you do to hold on to the rock star junior staffer who has become an integral, reliable and trustworthy member of your team? How do you keep them engaged and growing within your organization?
Developing and Retaining Awesome Nonprofit Leaders—In Four Steps
- Develop skills
- Assign substantial projects
- Establish a formal mentorship program
- Make mission moments a priority
1) Develop skills
Build a foundation of basic skills. While many young professionals start their fundraising careers with a nonprofit internship, those experiences are often unfocused and not oriented towards skill-building. It’s crucial to build hard skills around key fundraising principles from the start.
In fundraising, the basics include:
a) Knowing how to carry out prospect research using both databases and online information sources
b) Understanding your CRM platform and how it can be used to support moves management
c) Understanding fundamental fundraising principles, and
d) Strong administrative and project management skills.
As a junior team member develops his or her skills, you can challenge them to craft thoughtful and creative approaches to more specific development strategies like major gifts, corporate partnerships, direct mail, and/or institutional giving.
2) Give Substantial Projects
Leadership opportunities should start early in the careers of talented junior team members. Allow your staff to take on meaningful projects with real impacts. Developing project plans, assigning tasks and deadlines and reporting on outcomes are valuable skills that are best taught through experience.
When they are successful at a project, allow them to report to the team how they put it together and what they learned in the process. The more confidence they build, they more they will take on challenging projects and be accountable for the outcomes.
3) Establish a Formal Mentorship Program
We’ve all, especially in the early years in our careers, had questions we weren’t sure of the answers to, but didn’t want to confess to a knowledge gap. It’s leadership’s responsibility to provide junior staff members with the opportunity to flourish in a healthy and constructive environment, with a positive feedback loop of communication.
A mentorship program is a great way to formalize this process. Pair each junior team member with a mentor – ideally not their supervisor, but someone familiar enough with their line of work that they can provide helpful guidance. Mentorship programs need guidelines, goals and deadlines to ensure mentors and mentees understand their roles and responsibilities.
The mentor–mentee relationship should focus less on hard skills, and more on the all-important soft skills needed to survive in business and life — managing relationships, facing problems, leading and participating in teams, and building consensus.
Smart organizations build mentorship into their culture and expect senior staff to serve as mentors. Showing appreciation for these efforts, either with monetary or other less tangible rewards, will help to further ingrain them in your culture.
4) Make Mission Moments a Priority
The rewards of working in the nonprofit sector mostly don’t include glamour, a swanky office environment, or a fat pay packet. Fundraisers are attracted to our altruistic profession by mission. Successful nonprofits channel this idealism and desire to change the world by sharing “mission moments”. These serve to remind the team of the value of your work by connecting them to those who benefit from your mission. You can facilitate this by having program officers sharing some of their experiences from the week, or publicly recognizing how their efforts directly help those whom your organization serves. We’re all here for a reason — and team members need to be reminded of that!
Nonprofit leaders, team members, board members and volunteers have a responsibility to raise a generation of nonprofit change-makers that we can be proud of. Leaving a legacy starts right now!