- The talent needs of nonprofits have changed due to the Great Recession
- The demand for ‘soft skills’ is accelerating as nonprofits seek to be more nimble
- In both corporate and nonprofit sectors, ‘creativity’ is the ‘soft skill’ most sought by leaders
- Today’s leaders must : 1) Question Status Quo 2) Rethink current business models 3) Destroy organizational lethargy
What type of talent should the Executive Director nurture in current staff? What should they value in new employees? The answer is critical to differentiating between our current understanding of the ED’s role and The New Generation Executive Director. It will impact the Director’s career, the effectiveness of the organization and the people served by that organization. The qualities that an ED values most in their team sets a standard that affects everything from program development, fundraising, collaboration and the long-term success of nonprofit.
Employer surveys over the past four decades document the growing emphasis upon “soft” skills: communication, dependability, tenacity. In fact, the transformation is now so complete that basic technical skills requirement no longer rank in the top five of what employers seek. As one Director explains, “I can teach them what they need to do a good job, but they need those soft skills like persistence in order to do a great job and add real value to this organization.”
Now comes new data which suggests that leaders’ priorities in this area are changing in important ways. Whether it is corporate or nonprofit, ‘creativity’ is identified as the emerging critical competency for the successful enterprise of the future.
That’s creativity—not administrative skill, passion or even dedication. In the midst of an era of economic limits where we are entering an age of austerity, this indicates an intriguing shift in attitude. As business models for nonprofits change, the threat to traditional nonprofit captains is titanic. Retrenchment of government budgets, private household debt burdens, the expansion of venture philanthropy, an emerging legal framework for public benefit corporations all represent fundamental DNA challenges to traditional nonprofits. Uncertainty is confronting today’s ED, many of who now sense a large gap between the level of change coming at them and the ability of their staff to deal with it.
This is why The New Executive Director views creativity as the essential leadership asset that must permeate an enterprise.
Might As Well Break Your Business Model Before The World Does It For You
The Great Recession has shaken many of the assumptions held by those in charge. Since half of the EDs in America are 55 and older, this means the majority of our leaders cut their management teeth back in the 70s and early 80s, an age which valued basic administration over creative leadership.
When you consider that 25% of human service nonprofits still conduct client intake via pen and paper, you get a sense that even before the recession we were a few decades behind the curve.
It’s not the technical hardware we’re talking about, but the interconnected mindset. Most nonprofits just use technology to digitize existing systems, sometimes described as ‘paving the cowpaths’. Today the world is massively interconnected—economically, socially, and politically—and operating as a system of systems. For too many Directors, the answer is that their stakeholders are plugged into their individual social networks, but not to the nonprofit. So what does this look like for The New Nonprofit?
Against that backdrop of interconnection, inter dependency, and complexity, an entrepreneurial generation of nonprofit leaders are emphasizing fresh thinking and continuous innovation at all levels of the organization. The New Executive Directors are seizing upon creativity as the necessary element for nonprofits get nimble, reinvent themselves and thus remain relevant players in the funding and service community.
So you’re looking for creative talent and innovative thinking. What does this do for the nonprofit?
Question Your Status Quo – Every organization has legacy programs that are sacred cows. Often the need to perpetuate the ‘success’ of these products inhibits creativity within the organization and thus leaving exciting new options open for other nonprofits. The New Executive Director understands that new revenues will have to come from new sources, and thus be open to break with existing assumptions, methods, and even traditional services.
Rethink Your Business Model – Directors who prioritize creativity as a need in their staff are more likely to pursue innovation by changing their business model. In an age of accelerating change, they surround themselves with talent that can think on their feet and not wait for direction from the laborious traditional strategic planning sessions so beloved these past few decades. Strategic Thinking matters more than Strategic Planning. The New Executive Director builds staff capacity to favor continuous, rapid-fire shifts and adjustments to their business models.
Destroy Your Nonprofit Lethargy – The New Executive Director will not await certainty…nor near certainty. Nor will they tolerate it in their staff. Creative leaders will develop a team that fights the institutional urge to wait for completeness, clarity, and stability before making decisions. This takes a combination of vision, strategic awareness and gut level confidence. Also required is strong analytical skills to sift through mountains of data and decide what is relevant. These talents drive decision making that is faster, more precise, and even more predictable.
The New Executive Director must create a culture which is far more transparent and entrepreneurial. The New Culture is infused with the belief that the changing economy is an opportunity, not a threat. The New Nonprofit understands that risk is to be managed, not avoided. The New Executive Director has the ability to build creative enterprises with fluid business models, not absolute ones.
Something significant is happening to the American economy and to the nonprofit sector. In response to powerful external pressures and the opportunities that accompany them, The New Executive Directors are redefining the job. They are showing the rest of us that a world of increasing complexity will give rise to a new generation of leaders that make creativity the path forward.
Photo Credit: Alan O’Rourke