October 12, 2012

A bottleneck is building-up on the nonprofit sector’s leadership highway.

With many years of productivity and health ahead of them, Baby Boomers who lead nonprofit organizations face difficulty with the notion of traditional retirement. After pouring their energy and commitment into social change, they have a hard time imagining doing something different. After sacrificing earning potential and benefits in exchange for meaningful, world-changing careers, they may also have a hard time imagining what is next. And after the Great Recession decimated their nest-eggs, they may have a financially tough time walking away from work.

Sitting behind them on the road are Generation Xers, who are stuck in the middle of the traffic jam in mid-career positions with few opportunities to move up in their organizations. Some of them have grown tired of waiting and created their own lanes – started their own organizations and initiatives when they could not assert their ideas or get their needs met within existing institutions.

Then there are the Millennials, who are waiting anxiously on the on-ramps. 

To get the flow of talent running smoothly again, funders, nonprofit boards and executives ought to consider promising practices including the following:

  • Boomerang Opportunities: Offer sabbaticals, emeritus chairs, and encore careers specifically for Boomer nonprofit executives, so that they can leave the pressures of full-time executive management behind while knowing they have great opportunities to give back as mentors, thought-leaders, and teachers.
  • Multi-generational Learning: Create platforms for generations of social sector leaders in specific issue-areas to learn from one another, to encourage the free transfer and exchange of knowledge and perspective in multiple directions. This type of respect, dignity, and opportunity to share experience and build a legacy is critical both for Boomers and for the effectiveness of their causes.
  • Benefits for the Next-Gen: Improve benefits and retirement systems in and across nonprofits, so that diverse next-generation leaders can afford to commit to social sector careers now and access decent retirement when the time comes. Good benefits can supplement low salaries and other sacrifices.

Will funders just rubberneck as the cars collide, pile-up and go up in flames?

If we take action now, we could turn this bottleneck into open road. Baby Boomers will drive freely and give back to the causes that move them. When this traffic gets going, new space and new opportunities open up. This will benefit the Generation Xers who are stuck in the middle of the jam and the Millennials who are sitting anxiously in the onramps.

Let’s do this.

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