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How Can Nonprofits Train Their Future Leaders?

Posted By Laurel Westmoreland, Education Associate, Friday, May 19, 2017
Updated: Thursday, May 18, 2017

Content repurposed from University of San Francisco


This week we’re continuing our spotlight on succession planning research put out by University of San FranciscoBecause “the skills that leaders needed to manage successfully a decade ago may not be the best set of skills required of younger leaders today,” there is some important information here to bear in mind when thinking about the future of your organization.  Whether your focus is succession planning specifically or leadership development in general, statistics highlight the growing need for nonprofits to prioritize staff training and development in order to cultivate the strong nonprofit leaders of the future.


How Can Nonprofits Train Their Future Leaders?

The most important approach that nonprofits can take to train future leaders is to help them build the skills necessary to make them efficient managers. Furthermore, nonprofits should also develop strategies to encourage these leaders-in-waiting to remain in the organization and in the industry. This is the only way for their skills to be fully utilized and for nonprofits to benefit from their investment.


Nonprofits should also make leadership opportunities available to a diverse group of workers to encourage increased interest in training and improving their experience. Nonprofit employees should also be encouraged to expand their knowledge by working on independent projects. This will help improve their abilities and test their current skill level. For example, new or incoming employees may be encouraged to work on a challenging project to see how much of an impact they can make.

It is also a good idea for nonprofits to promote the most desirable elements that define effective leaders in the private and public sectors. These include:

  • Promoting open communication
  • Offering support for individuals
  • Efficient allocation of resources
  • Removing obstacles
  • Promoting sponsor innovation

Another key strategic step that nonprofit organizations can implement is to establish mentorships wherein younger, less experienced employees can learn from current organization leaders through coaching, direct interaction and learning. About 71% of surveyed Fortune 500 companies already offer their employees varying types of mentoring opportunities.

As a critical component of the internal training system, nonprofit leaders should also be encouraged to learn more about how to manage important issues that affect the organization and the society they are in. These issues include culture, values, motivation, renewal and social cohesion.

Lastly, nonprofits should attract more quality employees and future leaders, and encourage them to stay by offering better salaries and benefits. More often than not, nonprofits offer lower salaries than the majority of private companies, although generally nonprofits tend to provide benefits and other non-cash incentives as part of their total compensation package.

How Succession Planning Can Help Nonprofit Organizations

One of the most important strategies that nonprofit board members must use is insourcing: that is, finding new leaders from the ranks of the organization’s current employees. Transitions in leadership can often cause a vulnerability in an organization, and may even cause a loss of institutional knowledge and brand values. Succession planning also allows nonprofits to learn how to respond and adapt to changes, particularly the kind that create new leadership roles and needs.

Steps for Successful Succession Planning

Succession planning allows nonprofits to help employees make an effective transition from one role to another without reducing their efficacy and efficiency. To ensure proper succession, here are key steps to follow:

Include grant makers and senior leaders in the process.

Senior leaders have the experience and skills necessary to train new leaders for future positions, while grant makers create the opportunities for the organization to continue its work, sustain its function and meet its goals.

Engage younger talent for future skill development.

The skills that leaders needed to manage successfully a decade ago may not be the best set of skills required of younger leaders today. Nonprofit organizations should be able to adapt to change, and new incoming talent must be trained with the right skills to help them become effective leaders.

Find new talent to meet the organization’s needs.

No transition is perfect, and it is quite possible there will be areas in the organization that may not have the right match in terms of talent. In addition, changes in the industry may have created new roles that the current talent pool may not be able to fill. If employees within the organization do not have the right training, skills and experience for the job, then new talent should be tapped.

Provide in-house leadership training.

Senior leaders in nonprofits will eventually leave the workplace due to retirement and other factors. To prepare for the new vacancy, nonprofits should provide training opportunities for current staff to help them develop leadership skills. To keep the organization stable, nonprofits should also find ways to retain their workers so they thrive in their leadership positions, and become mature and effective members and leaders of society.


At the NLC, we’re here to help you make the most of this opportunity—it’s kind of our thing!  We deliver professional development and training at every level—from program staff to executive leadership to the Board—through high-quality in-classroom, online, and custom training.  Our Director of Strategic Development, Tuesdi Dyer, CFRE helps nonprofits find the best fit for their unique needs with a constellation of engagement opportunities at every level.



Tags:  development  leaders  leadership  nonprofit  succession  train  training 

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