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Two-thirds of the 3,000 nonprofit executive directors surveyed plan to leave their jobs within five years
Meyer and Compass Point

July, 2011

Two-thirds of the 3,000 nonprofit executive directors surveyed plan to leave their jobs within five years. Executives express frustration with nonprofit funding models, amplified by the recession, but remain resolved and engaged.

Washington, DC—Daring to Lead 2011, a new national study of nonprofit executive directors conducted in the aftermath of the deepest economic recession in decades, reports that a significant number of executives plan to leave their jobs within the next five years, citing frustration with their organizations’ shaky finances, under-performing boards of directors, and the difficulty of maintaining healthy work-life balance in their demanding roles.

The study was conducted by San Francisco-based CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Meyer Foundation in Washington, DC. More than 3,000 executive directors responded to an online survey that asked executives about their career paths, likely tenure, their partnership with the board of directors, and the impact of the recession on their organizations. Meyer, CompassPoint, and other partner organizations—including foundations and management support organizations—distributed the survey to executive directors in eleven regions throughout the U.S. To supplement the survey, 70 executives participated in focus groups in San Francisco and Washington.

Daring to Lead 2011 is a follow-up to similar studies conducted in 2006 and 2001, in which three out of four executives said they planned to leave their jobs within five years. The number of respondents who said they were leaving in this study—67%—is somewhat lower than in the two previous studies, with executives’ responses suggesting that the recession may have temporarily slowed executive departures. Nevertheless, a large majority of respondents continue to anticipate their departure within five years, making executive turnover and transition a significant ongoing concern for nonprofits, their boards, and other stakeholders.

Other significant findings:

  • Almost half of respondents (45%) said their boards had not reviewed their performance within the past year, and only 18% said that their performance review was useful.
  • Most respondents—84%—reported negative organizational impact from the recession, with one in five reporting significant negative impact.
  • Nearly half of respondents (46%) said their organizations had operating reserves of less than three months of expenses, even though three months is the minimum level of reserves suggested by most experts.
  • Executive coaching was ranked highest by respondents as a very effective professional development strategy, but just 10% of respondents were working with a coach. The complete 20-page report can be downloaded at www.daringtolead.org. Three briefs—Leading Through a Recession, Inside the Executive Director Job, and The Board Paradox—report additional findings and will be released over the next six weeks. The interactive Daring to Lead website includes information about methodology, executive director demographics, and additional data.

# # #

CompassPoint Nonprofit Services intensifies the impact of fellow nonprofit leaders, organizations, and networks as we achieve social equity together. Serving San Francisco, the East Bay, Silicon Valley, and beyond, we strengthen today’s leaders, and are helping to grow a healthy pipeline of diverse leaders for the future. We influence the dialogue about policies, emerging practices, and the resources needed for nonprofits to create change. And we convene partners, link fields, and strengthen networks that accomplish more by working together. For more information, visit www.compasspoint.org.

The Meyer Foundation identifies and invests in visionary leaders and effective community-based nonprofit organizations that are working to create lasting improvements in the lives of low-income people in the Washington, DC metropolitan region, and works to strengthen the region’s nonprofit sector as a vital and respected partner in meeting community needs. For more information, visit www.meyerfoundation.org.



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