Saturday, May 19, 2007

The "non-profit leadership deficit": are we still this silly? Really?

If you're on staff at a U.S. non-profit organization or foundation you have likely heard something about The Nonprofit Sector’s Leadership Deficit”. That's the title of an early-2006 study published by a think-tank called the Bridgespan Group, which has been written about endlessly in all manner of media. I've personally attended a couple of gatherings where the report was discussed, and the group's president has made appearances at a number of conferences to talk about it.

As far as I can tell the report's conclusion -- that this sector will in coming years be drastically short of qualified leadership-level staffers -- has been accepted as fact. Put another way: if anyone has yet doubted the report's overall logic and conclusion I haven't read or heard of it.

I'd be happy to be proven wrong on that, because the report is nonsense; I've seen stronger logic in the pages of the John Birch Society newsletter. What comes to mind from reading it is a broad-based critical-thinking deficit.

It's easy to spot specific logic problems in the thing, for example their assumption that the growth in the number of staffed non-profits will indefinitely continue to be as high as it was in the late-1990s boom economy. They also keep repeating the canard about how the public sector in the U.S. is increasingly offloading services to non-profits, and appear unaware of the fact that top-level professionals in the non-profit sector enjoy their work and tend to keep working by choice well beyond age 62 or 65. And they clearly are still working from the assumption that non-profit salaries are lower compared to the same jobs in the for-profit sector.

On the supply side they seem to think that business schools are a key source pool for all this, I have no idea why. (I've helped hire several development directors and executive directors and program directors, and the idea of an MBA degree being a major qualification would just get a chuckle from the search committees I've been on.) So they basically conclude that since the number of MBA's isn't growing as fast as the non-profit sector as a whole, one more looming crisis for the perpetually-struggling non-profits! needs to be added to the list.

Sigh. This whole thing rests on the idea that supply and demand are somehow disconnected in real life: it does not seem to have occurred to anyone that a visibly-booming economic sector tends to attract more top-level talent. Is it not obvious in seventeen different ways that smart educated young Americans nowadays are flocking to make careers in this sector? (Yes it is, to anyone who's paying attention.) Is that not evidence that salary levels are not actually penurious around here and/or that a lot of the kind of folks we want are motivated by things other than owning a Lexus?

I notice no comparative context either: does not every growing economic sector have to reach farther to find the talent it needs? Isn't that basically normal? Is this sector having a harder time with that than have law or medicine or investment banking or whatever? I have no idea, and neither does anybody at Bridgespan Group.

I hope to be around long enough to see this marvelous sector learn to expect more logic and common sense than is being displayed on this subject.


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For generations, many non-profits have been leftist, influencing all sorts of corners of society. Now the demand is for 'transparancy' as more conservative EO's enter the arena last few decades.

Isn't 'Leadership' just a rallying call to battle conservative EO's and raise the entry qualifications?

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