Leadership Investment in the Not-for-Profit Sector: Time for a New Conversation

Leadership: Develop Unlimited Talent
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Apr 7, 2015 | Blog

Our sector is committed to action for the public good – no small mission! And as leaders in the sector our role is to envision something different from what is today and ask “what positive change can we drive?” The stakes are high. It is an exciting time to be a not-for-profit leader. 

And, let’s admit that it is also a challenging time. Leaders in our sector are stretched – meeting multiple demands, engaging teams, managing finances, evaluating outcomes. To be a great leader takes time, mentoring, and professional development opportunities. But are we making that time? Or the investment?

According to a recent study by McKinsey and Company, the answer is no. Their findings indicate a “chronic underinvestment in leadership development within the US social sector,” leading to a serious “gap between demands on leaders and their ability to meet those needs.” This is alarming, not only because of the risk to organizations today, but to our sector in the future. Where will our new leaders come from if there are no great role models, no paths to follow, and no investments made? 

Now is the time to have to have a conversation about this and to engage in critical self-reflection – if we believe that strong, sustained leadership drives strong programs and significant social change, then we must invest – at all levels. 

Developing Young Leaders

Investing in our up-and-coming leaders is critical. We want innovators and doers who imagine a future brighter and better than today. We must nurture this talent and provide opportunities to learn, to take on responsibility and, most of all, to fail in a supportive environment. Failure teaches great lessons. 

And yet often there is less support for young staff, especially in smaller organizations. Developing leaders is a journey of many lessons and activities. I see this as an opportunity for mentoring and knowledge philanthropy. Invite experienced leaders to mentor your emerging leaders. Create opportunities for them to step up with projects that will stretch them. Share books and articles, send them to training. 

Change Requires Investment 

Other questions to ask ourselves – why is training and development generally considered a “cost” and not an investment? How do we change the public’s general perception that funding should go primarily towards programs rather than administration and organizational development? How can we help funders measure the impact of leadership development and encourage more support in this area?

Real outcomes are not the result of a short term effort; a multi-year commitment is required. To build high performing organizations with strong leadership, we need to invest in many areas — board development, individual development, and team building. The City of Vancouver has shown great innovation by specifically funding capacity building and leadership, and we are seeing real outcomes from the work we are doing together . 

As the McKinsey article states: “leadership matters.” It’s time for more of us to show that it matters and collectively make the investment. 

Denise Baker headshot


Denise Baker

Denise Baker was the Executive Director of Vantage Point and is passionate about change management and growth, cultivating collaborative environments and developing leadership in others. She has held leadership positions in many industries, including Director of Worldwide Education at Business Objects and Assistant Dean at the Sauder School of Business. Denise has an Honours English Degree and a Master of Library and Information Science from UBC.

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