Crisis in Leadership

Apr 15, 2010

By: Amelia Miller
Key Club Leadership Specialist

An article in the Washington Post on March 2, 2010 explores a topic that those of us in the nonprofit sector have been hearing about for years – the impending “crisis” in leadership. Baby boomers are retiring and non-profits can’t seem to retain the young talent they attract. As a young professional who has jumped ship a few times in my short nonprofit tenure, I can affirm speculations that my generation is dissatisfied with the low salaries and long hours. It’s true that among my peers there is a general refusal to become martyrs for the cause as so many before us have done. But talking heads are missing the mark if they conclude based on this information that Millennials (born roughly between 1980 and 2000) are selfish and lazy and just don’t care about the causes our predecessors held so dear.

I have worked in the past for shamefully low pay and while it was frustrating, it was never my primary reason for leaving. I left because I felt stifled by the current leadership– both in my ability to develop as a leader and in my ability to make an impact in my community. Young nonprofit professionals don’t loathe the long hours because we’re lazy, we simply value working hard and smart over working long. We are innovators who see new and potentially better ways of doing things. We view traditional processes and institutions as antiquated and counterproductive and yearn to be given real responsibility that will allow us to make real impact. It’s because I cared that I ultimately left to pursue other means to this end.

But in case you still believe in the “young people are apathetic” myth, and have concluded thus far that I am a rare exception, consider that in a time when service organizations all over the world are struggling to recruit new adult members, Key Club, Kiwanis International’s high school service-leadership organization is growing steadily. Over 250,000 high school students are bound together by a common love of service and a desire to change the world for the better. According to a recent survey released by the Corporation for National and Community Service, as highlighted in a blog post  on NDN.org, there was a marked increase in overall service to the community in the last year. The blog continues: “[The] increase among Millennials represented all of last year's gain in volunteerism; other generations combined showed no increase in participation levels.” It seems to me there is no shortage of next generation leaders.

Unfortunately for the powers that be, young leaders are demanding change and a place at the table. Nonprofit executives need only listen to their young employees, give them meaningful leadership opportunities – now, not later – and accept that adaptation is the only way to solve the leadership crisis..


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