Springs nonprofits looking for leaders of tomorrow

Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, and board member Stella Hodgkins.

Forward looking: Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, and board member Stella Hodgkins.

The sports industry could teach the nonprofit sector something about succession planning.

Professional sports teams are in continual recruiting mode, teambuilding up to 10 years in advance.

Nonprofits, however, are often left scrambling to find new leadership when an executive director moves on.

Few young people, it seems, even consider careers in the nonprofit sector. Less than 1 percent of high school students nationwide discuss this option with their guidance counselors.

Colorado has more than 19,000 nonprofits, and the Pikes Peak region has more than 2,000.

With nearly 80 percent of executive directors expected to leave their positions in the next decade, and few graduates choosing the nonprofit career, the pipeline for future leaders is running low.

Several local and statewide organizations, however, are working to change this trend.

The Colorado Nonprofit Associationhas been working with Jeff Pryor and Alexandra Mitchell, co-founders of Pathfinder Solutions, a company that advises nonprofit leaders, to develop a statewide online survey for nonprofit executives

The survey will look at the recruitment, retention and development of nonprofit professionals and leadership transition planning within organizations.

Based on data gathered from the survey and meetings, the association will decide which resources and training programs nonprofits need within Colorado.

Renny Fagan, CEO of the CNA, plans to send out the survey next month, and soon have community meetings across the state. He’s already armed with some background information.

For-profit businesses hire 60 to 65 percent of senior managers from within their organizations.

Nonprofits only hire about 35 percent from within, Fagan said.

“People, today, switch employers and careers,” he said. “A sustainable organization should have leadership transition plans, so it can sustain itself when leaders leave. You want to make sure that nonprofit professionals continue their career path within the nonprofit sector.”

In Colorado Springs, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence has been working toward that goal, training leaders to remain within the sector. The center offers succession workshops, board member training and collaborates with the CNA and El Pomar Foundation.

A 2009 study by Pryor and Mitchell — which showed that many nonprofits are unprepared for succession — provided an important wake-up call for nonprofits, said Executive Director David Somers.

Somers said that Springs nonprofits are networking to find future leaders and that there is a good deal of lateral movement among organizations.

One third of CNE’s membership is at an operating budget of $250,000 a year or less. This typically means only one or two paid employees.

“It’s difficult in an environment like that to be hiring from within. Often you have to look outside when you have leadership change,” Somers said.

An example of the collaboration and movement within the nonprofit community is Lynne Telford’s recent career move.

After a decade at Pikes Peak United Way, most recently as chief operating officer, last month she took the helm as CEO at Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado.

“Care and Share and United Way have had a close relationship for years,” he said. She knows many of the people there already, including members of their board.”

With state and local governments cutting funding for the past several years, and gifts from foundations to nonprofits declining, he said, there’s been more and more collaboration between nonprofits.

“They share best practices, give referrals, look out for employment openings — they work very well together in this community,” Somers said.

Local colleges have expanded or added programs as well. The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado College, Colorado Technical University, Regis University, University of the Rockies and the University of Phoenix all have certificates or licensure or degree programs that address nonprofits and management.

“Quite frankly, we have a wealth of talent and a lot of passion in this community,” Somers said. We do need to mentor them and encourage future leadership in the community.”

One of the state’s largest nonprofits, El Pomar, has been doing just that.

It launched the Emerging Leaders Development Program for minority groups in 2001, run by Vice President Theophilus Gregory.

The program is designed to build capacity in the nonprofit sector by creating a networkbetween nonprofit executives and people in minority ethnic groups looking for boards and committees to serve on.

Once accepted into the program, their civic engagement profiles are posted on El Pomar’s website. More than 500 people have gone through the program. The program fosters broad-based community involvement, he said.

Gregory meets quarterly with the Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native American advisory councils in the region, as a liaison between nonprofits needing board members and people who want to serve. He invites CEOs and executive directors to attend a roundtable and meet some of the emerging leaders.

“Demographics are changing,” Gregory said. “For all of us over 50, it’s time to get the next team ready.”

“People of color have always served in the community — in their neighborhoods, schools and churches, but this gives them the opportunity to take it to the next level of engagement,” Gregory said.

The emerging leaders program meets needs on both sides.

“The supply side is there, with the civic profiles,” Gregory said. “And the demand side is the nonprofits that want people of color on their boards.”

Here’s a recent example of the ELD program in action.

Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, a nonprofit that helps the homeless, attended El Pomar’s ELD roundtable in November.

Homeward’s board has nine people when it’s at full strength. Holmes’s board was down to eight when he attended and met Stella Hodgkins. Hodgkins is a sustainable design specialist at Ambient Energy in Denver and co-coordinator for the Asian Advisory Council.

As a result of that meeting, she’s now on the board of Homeward Pikes Peak, and the Women’s Resource Agency, after meeting WRA executive director Beth Roalstad the same day.

“When you’re looking for someone to serve on your board, you look at what they’ve done instead of what they tell you they could do,” Holmes said. “I was interested in having her on the board because she has a track record of involvement in the community — she’s a professional, working in the architectural field.

“El Pomar has provided a great opportunity for nonprofits and people in minority ethnic groups to come together. You have people who want boards that are more diverse, and they don’t know how to go about it. Theo is very gifted and personable at doing this type of work,” Holmes said.

Hodgkins said that after finishing school and starting her career, she felt “settled,” about four years ago and wanted to be involved in the community. She began by volunteering with the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum and has served on numerous committees in the city.

“I’m passionate about being involved in the community and staying as well-rounded as possible, Hodgkins said.

With a background in architecture and sustainability, she didn’t want to be “pigeonholed” with what she does professionally. So, Homeward Pikes Peak was “a great opportunity to get involved in an area I hadn’t previously been involved in,” she said.

After volunteering for several years and serving on numerous committees, the roundtable she attended connected Hodgkins to her first two boards.

“El Pomar’s program provides opportunities one wouldn’t normally encounter. It’s too good to pass up. (Emerging leaders) has created a pathway for things I wouldn’t have known about, or had the opportunity to be connected with,” Hodgkins said.

Fortunately for the region’s nonprofits, she is one of many people looking for ways to serve, while others are looking for ways to train future leaders.

“I think we have wonderful talent in this community. Because of governance structure, the nature of nonprofits is that they are constantly in a state of dynamic change. So there are opportunities on an ongoing basis to educate and train up,” CNE’s Somers said.

What about the future?

Three-fourths of nonprofit executive directors will be leaving their position in the next five to 10 years.

69 percent of nonprofit executive directors say they are currently underpaid, and 64 percent of younger nonprofit professionals have financial concerns about committing to a career in the sector.

Prevailing executive director job descriptions are unappealing to next generation leaders; 75 percent say the top barriers include long hours, demands of funders and demands of boards.

By 2050, the majority of the U.S. population will be nonwhite, yet only 18 percent of executive directors under age 45 are people of color.

For-profit businesses hire 60 to 65 percent of senior managers from within, while only about 35 percent of nonprofit senior managers and 27 percent of executive directors are internal hires.

There is high frustration over lack of mentorship and career paths.

More than two-thirds of surveyed nonprofit professionals said their organization’s capacity to recruit, develop, and retain leadership is “disappointing” or “so-so,” while only about 10 percent think it is “excellent.”

25 percent of high school students can’t name one nonprofit.

50 percent can’t name three.

Source: Jeff Pryor and Alexandra Mitchell, co-founders of Pathfinder Solutions