On Tuesday, I published the first part of my discussion with Leigh who has been in the nonprofit sector for decades as an executive and philanthropist. You can find the first part of the series here where she speaks to how the sector has evolved, in her experience, since she started working in it in the 1970’s. Leigh has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for charity and philanthropy during her life and she brings a very good perspective to a changing industry.
Here is the conclusion of our discussion:
There often seems to be a tension between Boomers, GenX and Millennials when it comes to staff and management in nonprofits. Have you seen that in your experience?
There’s always a tension between generations. I do think, however, that these times are different. We are living in an era where technology is producing incredible changes. You can have people starting a nonprofit business or social enterprise and doing a lot with technology in terms of communication and even fundraising. Technology seems to be a great equalizer. It doesn’t take a lot in today’s world to be able to reach millions of people.
This creates an atmosphere where those who know it have the upper hand. It’s assumed that Millennials know technology. They grew up with it. They didn’t have to learn it later in life. They learned it from the time they were children. So, there’s certainly a clear advantage for them.
This goes to what I mentioned before, however. I think that some nonprofit organizations are leaning toward technical expertise and mastery around technology. They are promoting individuals into management positions very early simply because they have some technical expertise. However, a lot of these young people don’t have the skills of dealing with people who are direct reports, peers and superiors. So, you have situations where young people are assuming executive positions before they’re ready, and this is clearly causing tension.
There’s always been a fascination with youth. That’s just part of life. I think, however, that technology has simply made the situation more of a challenge. Again, there has to be an investment by nonprofits in people. They have to invest the time and resources to train young people on how to be managers and deal with individuals in varying situations.
That being said, I think there’s a loss of opportunity with professionals in their 40’s and maybe early 50’s. They are being overlooked as nonprofits think about doing things cheaper with younger workers and technology. So, you have a whole group of people who are seasoned, have paid their dues, but there’s this drift toward technology being the solution, which it isn’t on its own. And, there’s an assumption that these older workers don’t have the technology skills, which is incorrect. Many nonprofits are missing the boat on being able to look at people and technology. They’re just saying we have to move to technology and the group that’s going to get us there are the Millennials, but that’s missing a big opportunity with older workers. It’s setting up an environment where older workers resent what’s happening and Millennials are not prepared, as I have said, on the nuances of dealing with people professionally.
How have you seen major donors evolve and change?
I’m not sure major donors have evolved or changed. I was always working with captains of industry and for many, many years there has been a demand for results and impact. I think the difference now is that data is becoming much easier to obtain because of the advances in technology. So, it’s getting much more difficult for nonprofits to tell funders that they don’t know in great detail how their programs are performing.
This is a good thing. Major donors, corporations and foundations want to see results. And, there may be a consolidation of organizations in time because those nonprofits that can’t demonstrate impact will have to close. That might not be a bad thing at all. I think there are too many overlapping organizations and donors as a whole are getting much more sophisticated in wanting to see results.
What do you see as the future of the nonprofit sector?
Oh, now you want me to take out my crystal ball. Well, I think nonprofits are going to have to embrace technology. Yes, that’s a fact that’s not going to change. However, the smart ones that succeed will be those that effectively use technology and understand how to work with people. It’s always about people and the organizations that understand the human element in working with donors and managing people will be the ones that succeed.
I think there’s also change in the industry as a whole beyond technology. If you keep up with the trends, and the laws that are changing across the country, you have an increase in social enterprises or some types of hybrid entities that are looking for profit and also social good. That’s a definite change. It will be interesting to see how the next five to 10 years transpire with nonprofits and for-profits both looking for social change.
I think donors at all levels are going to be demanding more of nonprofits. They are going to want to see quantified results. So, I think nonprofits need to get very strong at data and analysis in order to provide measurements not only to major donors, but also to the general public.
Finally, there’s an opportunity for great advancements and change in the sector. But, it’s going to take a combined effort from individuals with different skills and experiences as well as different types of resources. I hope organizations don’t go too far one way thinking they found the magic formula with technology. That’s very easy to do. But no one thing is the answer. It’s a combination of resources and talent. Technology is important, but it’s also about people working together and bringing staff experience and knowledge to the table to effectively build a sustainable organization.
© 2015 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.