Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

May 21, 2007

Investment in nonprofit leadership needed

El Pueblo, the leading statewide advocacy group for Latinos in North Carolina, the state with the fastest-growing Latino population, will lose its executive director in September after less than two years in the job.

Zulayka Santiago, the group’s executive director, is leaving because the demands of the job leave her too little time for family and personal matters.

A loss for El Pueblo and the state, her departure also reflects a looming crisis in the nonprofit world.

In a study last year by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services in San Francisco and the Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C., three in four nonprofit executive directors surveyed said they planned to leave their jobs within five years, and nearly one in 10 said they were in the process of leaving.

And executive directors, nearly three in four of whom said they did not receive adequate fundraising support from their boards, also said more general operating support and longer-term funding would help relieve sustainability pressures.

Nonprofits increasingly are demanding too much of their leaders and investing too little to help them begin to meet that demand.

Peter Morris, who chairs El Pueblo’s board and serves as medical and clinical services director for Wake County Human Services, says board, foundations and executive directors all need to change.

Boards need to do more to shoulder basic tasks like fundraising, while foundations need to invest more in nonprofits’ operations and in professional staff development.

And executive directors need to learn to share responsibility with their boards and staff.

The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, the largest general-purpose foundation in North Carolina with a statewide focus, currently is looking for an executive director.

Because of the role the foundation plays as a leading force for social change in the state, the new executive director will be expected to sacrifice his or her personal life and work virtually around the clock.

Nonprofit boards and their funders are in serious denial: They expect nonprofit executive directors to be superhuman but are not willing to provide the investment and hands-on support the executives need to survive and thrive.

It is long past time for boards and funders to change the way they do business by making that investment and providing that support.

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