Something Worth Reading: The appeal of non-profit leadership in “Work-life demands intense for CEOs at nonprofits”

Those of us who have worked in the non-profit industry for a while can become used to the “when’s your serious career going to start?” sort of questions. But there’s more to this doubt than the lower salaries that come with working at a non-profit organization. Increasingly institutions demand more and more commitment, time, and energy from their staff and leadership. This article post touches on the effect of that pressure on CEOs in particular, but there are several salient points, in particular:

When you lead a nonprofit, where the end game is about making the community a better place to live, the workload can be immense and the emotions intense. It’s a big responsibility – and one that people in their 20s and 30s aren’t rushing to undertake. As the demand for leaders in nonprofits increases, young workers say they don’t want to make the work-life sacrifices required of nonprofit executives…

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about fundraisers and development officers, but fundraising talent in the form of leadership is also often in short supply. Even those who have great potential may be reluctant to take on new leadership responsibilities because the increased pressure and stress that accompanies a promotion are not sufficiently balanced out by job benefits and satisfaction.

Part of the struggle can come from the nature of non-profit leadership. Most non-profit institutions are smaller organizations and with every promotion comes a large jump in responsibility. Individuals therefore tend to shoulder a broader spectrum of responsibility for an organization’s success, and, if something does go wrong, staff don’t face a loss in “profit” – they are in a position to see and feel responsible for a gap in services provided or institutional impact.

We do have a silver lining, one that applies to most non-profit staff members in general – the great privilege of working to do good and using you passion, education, and time to change the world. The article acknowledges this as well. The question becomes then, how do we utilize team members’ passion and enthusiasm for an organization and it’s mission without burning stars out too early?

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One thought on “Something Worth Reading: The appeal of non-profit leadership in “Work-life demands intense for CEOs at nonprofits”

  1. Interesting article. If small businesses are included in an analysis, I don’t think that nonprofit organizations are particularly small. From an economic standpoint, small businesses and nonprofits are very similar in that neither create very much value. That is why small businesses are small and nonprofits are nonprofits, their underlying activity is simply not very profitable.

    The difference between a small business and a nonprofit is that for the small business there is enough of a market opportunity for an owner, almost always an active owner with lifestyle considerations, to make an initial capital investment. This is what nonprofits do not have, easily understood market opportunities. A lot of what makes working at a nonprofit hard is that one must always be reviewing what the organization does – mission, case, prospectus – because there is no measurable and sustainable market. One of the key reasons why people like market systems is that they are easy to understand, one is either making money and generating a return, or not. Ascertaining the success of “making the community a better place to live” is much more difficult.

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