Developing Nonprofit Leaders Is an Ongoing Investment
Book - Nonprofit Leadership Development
Although leadership is, arguably, a nonprofit’s most valuable resource, too often organizations react to a pending or sudden change in leadership instead of planning for it, which Nonprofit Leadership Development: What’s Your “Plan A” for Growing Future Leaders? seeks to rectify by providing step-by-step guidance.

Nonprofit leaders are not stewards of today’s organization, but rather engaged developers of talent that will help prepare the organization to meet its mission in an often changing world, according to authors Kirk Kramer and Preeta Nayak, of The Bridgespan Group in Boston, who based the book on the organization’s extensive leadership development research.

For that reason, leadership development needs to be treated as an ongoing business process, requiring ongoing investment, particularly of time and effort and less so of financial and other resources.

The authors note that “what matters more than money is the time and effectiveness of the CEO and senior team in actively managing and promoting development. If senior leaders aren’t engaged in coaching, mentoring, and identifying stretch assignments for up-and-coming leaders, no amount of financial investment in outside training can compensate.”

The need for developing nonprofit leaders is great and the payoff can be substantial. A 2006 Bridgespan white paper found that the sector would need 640,000 new leaders by 2016 and 80,000 new managers every year. Citing the experience of the Boys and Girls Club of America, nonprofit leaders who participated in development training outperformed those who didn’t, while the organization reaped a 4-to-1 return on those development investments.

So what, exactly is a Plan A? Nayak and Kramer define it as a vision of the organization’s leadership team, maybe three to five years out, that accounts for the roles and capabilities needed for the organization to achieve its strategy, and an overview of the steps needed to develop that team.

Creating a Plan A (a term used by the former CEO of American Express for leadership development) starts by understanding the organization’s likely needs and challenges, going forward, and identifying the leadership skills that will best be able to respond. That is why leadership development is fundamentally different from succession planning.

“Most succession plans are concerned primarily with maintaining organizational continuity,” the authors write. “But a Plan A envisions a changed organization that requires new roles, new competencies, or both.”

At its essence, a Plan A involves five distinct steps: Engaging senior leaders, understanding future needs, developing future leaders, hiring externally to fill gaps, and monitoring and improving practices. The authors explore each element in detail, providing real world examples to illustrate key points, and include questions, action plans, and other easy-to-use tools to help guide readers through the process.

Aging baby boomers have spawned a need for, literally, hundreds of thousands of new nonprofit leaders and managers who can become future leaders. The clock is ticking. The time to act is now.

Nonprofit Leadership Development: What’s Your “Plan A” for Growing Future Leaders? is available from The Bridgespan Group.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

July 2013