Generation Y? For a good cause, of course.

Many leaders in the nonprofit sector have heard the forecasts by groups like the Annie E. Casey Foundation or the Bridgespan Group that we are facing a nonprofit leadership deficit that will culminate in this decade. The results of the 2004 Nonprofit Executive Leadership and Transitions Survey by the Annie E. Casey Foundation indicated that if current executives stick to their plans to transition out of their nonprofit organizations, over half (57%) will have left by 2010 and the remaining 43% will leave their organizations by 2020.

This prediction was made 7 years ago. Has this held? While I haven’t found yet any recent statistics on nonprofit executive retirement rates, it doesn’t seem like we’re seeing an over-abundance of Executive Director positions in the classifieds section (at least not in my area!). Economic factors (inability to hire) and rising retirement ages may play a role in this, but overall it begs the question of whether or not we may want to revisit the research on the nonprofit leadership deficit and update it to take into consideration our rapidly changing times.

Getting an updated, clear picture of how the leadership deficit may have evolved is vital. But at the same time, I don’t feel an overwhelming sense of panic about the future of nonprofit leadership. The reason is that Generation Y is visibly, vocally, and energetically interested in applying their passion to a good cause.

In my work at the Institute for Nonprofits I have ample opportunities to talk to Nonprofit students about the importance of honing their leadership and nonprofit skills in anticipation of becoming our sector’s next generation of leaders. And indeed, it seems like there’s nothing they want more. I would be hardpressed to go a week (and in some cases, a day) without hearing enthusiastic accounts from others within my generation of how they’d like to make some kind of difference in the world.

From a purely personal standpoint, it’s amazing to think that as a teenager I would hear adults sigh and lament how apathetic young people were, and today, we are the young adults watching our peers get excited about one social cause or another. Still, we can’t do it all alone. The desire to be leaders and changemakers alone does not leaders and changemakers make. We still need the support and mentorship from experienced leaders and each other, the education and learning (shameless plug!), the willingness to work collaboratively and harmoniously with one another, and the practice and humility to learn from mistakes and remember that our work for the community isn’t ours–it belongs to everybody. I hope that our generation’s passion for positive change will drive us to absorb all of the knowledge and experiences we can to be the best leaders possible. In future entries I hope to share some of my own experiences in learning the ropes of the nonprofit sector in the hopes that peers will find the lessons I’ve learned useful.


  1. Jamie Farrell

    Liked your post and with my limited knowledge of the non-profit sector, it was highly informative. I think perhaps what people are ‘missing’ is that Gen Y, more so than any other generation thus far, is Mission Driven and cares more about being inspired than money. If this holds true and continues, non-profits should have a myriad of phenomenal leaders.

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