Part 2: Why great nonprofit leaders leave

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The uncertainty and messiness often inherent in the nonprofit sector have good leaders and candidates making different choices. Add to this the current trend of quiet quitting, and many wonder what can be done.

Last month, we waded into the quickly developing “leadership transition tsunami” and worked to understand the factors at play. We explored the role of the board of directors and their impact on the success (or failure) of nonprofit leaders.

Factors leading to the transition tsunami: 
  • One of the biggest reasons executives leave is due to their board of directors.

  • The second reason for the mass exodus of leaders is more intrinsic: many are rethinking their relationship with work.

The intrinsic reasons why leaders are leaving

This month, we’re focusing on the more intrinsic reasons folks are rethinking their relationship with work and what leaders can do to ameliorate the impact.

  1. Good candidates have a lot of choices now. When people do leave, build organizational assessment into your succession planning so you understand what skills and talents you need now to meet your mission and nurture a thriving company and team.

  2. Shadow conversations sabotage good plans and work. We’re all subject to the inner critic and a host of saboteurs that gang up on us and undermine our work. As a leader, get your flashlight out to shine a light on the messy bits and engage in “sitting down caring” conversations with the team to allow the tough stuff to emerge.

  3. Sometimes we signal our discontent rather than commitment. This can make folks nervous. Consider your accountability for your future and that of your organization, and ask the same of your team. Two questions can guide you:

    • Reflect on your commitment to the organization – what are you up to as the leader? What’s your personal north star guiding you forward?

    • Reaffirm your commitment to the organization and make a conscious decision about whether this is an organization, mission, plan, and team you want to be a part of going forward. It’s OK to let go, and great to do so with intention and integrity.

  4. We hang out in the “blame frame” rather than the “aim frame.” It is easy to blame others for our frustration. If you notice yourself starting to finger-point, try this instead to help colleagues feel valued.
    • Offer the benefit of the doubt. Consider that no matter the situation, the person you’re feeling frustrated with is 10% right.
    • Then put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Speak as that person and share their feelings. “I feel…because…” This approach helps you tap into your wiser self, which has oodles more power than your fearful self for finding practical solutions.

By activating your empathetic circuitry, you can nurture a workplace where you and your colleagues can thrive.


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Hey there, I'm Kimberley

Welcome! I believe our social sector organizations are at the forefront of making here better. With more than 33 years of diversified fundraising and nonprofit experience, I partner with courageous organizations committed to building clarity and confidence. Let’s connect and chart your nonprofit’s path to thriving. 

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