By: Tom Hobelman and Rebecca Saltman Issue: Resource Management Section: Community
A Call to Action from Pathfinder Solutions
The can argue that most people would like to make a difference in the world—an impact that doesn’t revolve around a promotion at work or the approval of family members. This vision can be as prosaic as enlisting friends in a fundraiser via Facebook, or as involved and far-reaching as establishing a nonprofit to tackle a particular shortfall of civil society. “You and I are created for goodness,” relates Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his preface to a seminal new work regarding nonprofit talent development entitled, Path With A Heart: An Invitation To Do Work That Matters. Tutu urges, “I invite you to dedicate your life to this goodness—to have an impact on the world. It will change your life and wipe the tears from God’s eyes.”
And why would God be weeping, you may well ask? Maybe because an indispensable component of society—the nonprofit sector—is in grave danger and most people don’t even know it. The millions of organizations that together stand up for the rights of humanity are losing visionary leaders who have been behind the most remarkable accomplishments in civil rights, education, basic health maintenance, and environmental stewardship. Who will follow in their footsteps?
Not-for-profit organizations have had an immense economic and cultural impact on the world. Witness the image of humongous National Football League players wearing pink shoes because the Brinker sisters at the helm of the Komen Foundation have entirely changed the way the world responds to breast cancer. Workers with nonprofit operations have been predominantly responsible for the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, sitting at the bedside of the dying, sheltering the homeless, and addressing the healthcare needs of the uninsured. Nevertheless, most people don’t think of the humanitarian field as a legitimate career. The philanthropic sector stands passionately behind every celebrated cause, while remaining largely invisible and endemically undervalued.
Nonprofit employment includes more than 12.5 million jobs—10 percent of the U.S. population. There are currently 1.5 million nonprofits, paying $322 billion in wages. The combined assets of U.S. nonprofits make the sector the seventh largest economy in the world—larger than that of Brazil, Russia and Canada combined. In 2009, American charities reported $1.4 trillion in revenue and reported $2.6 trillion in assets. And, nonprofit workers outnumber the combined labor pool of the utility, wholesale trade, and construction industries. Twenty-six percent of Americans volunteer an estimated 50 hours each per year, totaling 8.1 billion hours of service.
Whether or not it is a down economy, there is an urgent need to fortify the philanthropic workforce, for success and sustainability of the sector depends not only on adequate financial resources, but also on solid human capital and quality leadership. Talent defines what is possible in any field, and this is as equally true, if not more profoundly true, of the nonprofit sector. The sector must learn to cultivate and keep the talent it has, as well as draw in new talent. And it is not enough to be outrageously passionate in this world—one must combine this passion with heavy doses of tactical strategy.
Dr. Jeffrey Pryor and Alexandra Mitchell have focused their attention on the issue of cultivating talent throughout the nonprofit sector and ardently urge others to do so as well. The book Path With A Heart is just one part of a larger effort of a Colorado-based nonprofit consulting group Pryor and Mitchell have co-founded, called Pathfinder Solutions. Pryor recently stepped down from 20 years as the executive director of the Anschutz Family Foundation, and he now dedicates his time as the CEO of Pathfinder Solution. He is also a professor, EMT, volunteer firefighter, and is considered by many to be a nonprofit sage. Pryor is joined at Pathfinders by Mitchell, a researcher, writer, teacher, trainer and wizard in organizational development. She is co-founder and president of the organization.
The mission of Pathfinders is to invite passionate and talented individuals to seek cause careers in the philanthropic workforce, as well as to provide cause-focused organizations, including nonprofits, foundations, international non-governmental organizations, and corporate citizenship programs, the tools and training they need to attain higher value, performance, and measurable impact. Pathfinders is made up of a specialized group of associates who have coached, trained, and consulted with a diverse range of multi-sector organizations. The team has expertise in every area of nonprofit management, with experience that literally spans the globe. Between them, they have worked with social leaders in a long list of countries and contexts, including Asia, Africa and Latin America. All are committed to a partnership approach in which their focus and role is definitively collaborative.
The problem with nonprofit organizations is that they are typically myopically fixated on a given circumstance or conflict facing a community, with operational concerns taking a back seat to mission priorities. The consequence of this perspective is a short-sighted fog. These organizations aren’t investing in their own futures, and therefore aren't remotely self-sustainable. There are missed opportunities for program growth and a concomitant decrease in quality of service and overall impact. Observing nonprofit organizations while parked at this untenable position has generated some startling statistics.
Two-thirds of nonprofit executive directors say they plan to leave their jobs in the next five years according to a recent Compass Point and Meyers Foundation report, yet no attention is focused on replacement plans. A recent study that Pathfinders conducted, collecting information from nearly 2,000 nonprofit respondents, shows that only 4 percent have formal succession plans in place. Furthermore, though multiple studies have shown that good leadership is the leading predictor of organizational sustainability (TCC Group, 2009), fewer than one in five nonprofit workers have a university degree or certificate related to nonprofit management, and two-thirds have never taken a single academic course related to the field (Pathfinder Solutions, 2011). Meanwhile, more than 65 percent of nonprofit executive directors say they are underpaid, and prevailing job descriptions are unappealing to the next generation (Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, 2007). Frustration is high over lack of mentorship and career paths: for-profits hire two-thirds of their senior management from within, while only a third of nonprofit leaders are internal hires (Bridgespan Group, 2006). And, the prime U.S. workforce, aged 34 to 54, expanded by 35 million between 1980 and 2000; from 2000-2020, this pool will grow by just three million. Essentially, the talent pool for nonprofits is evaporating and there isn't a “rainmaker” in sight.
Pryor and Mitchell have been shouting this information from the mountaintops—literally when in Denver, a mile high above sea level—and yet their day-to-day experiences provide training in conference presentations and lecture hall meetings that evince a decided lack of awareness in the general populace. Volunteerism and working in social programs is considered sexy but hardly lucrative, and literally static in terms of career advancement. “According to our surveys, 100 percent of young people could identify Captain Morgan and Paris Hilton, but one quarter could not name a single nonprofit!” exclaims Dr. Pryor. “We’ve surveyed thousands of people, both young and old, and consistently find that while their desire to get involved is high, their knowledge and inspiration is low,” says Mitchell. “Jeff and I are co-teaching a couple of university classes at the University of Colorado-Boulder, for instance, and our freshmen students are a blank slate regarding civil society and understanding the breadth and depth of the nonprofit world.” These types of experiences have only enhanced the Pathfinder zeal for changing this paradigm, however.
For their book, Pryor and Mitchell have conducted over 300 interviews from across the globe with the likes of Jane Goodall, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Sandra Day O’Conner, President Bill Clinton, Dave Matthews, Carlos Santana and scores of people involved in every aspect of nonprofit work, from the CEOs of the world’s largest organizations to the young workers who have just entered the field. In addition, working with over 50 graduate students, they have developed an extensive research database. Pathfinders employs both top-down and bottom-up strategies to build awareness, engage key players, test possibilities, capture data, and take best and “next practices” to scale. Programs and services center on providing capacity-building training and technical assistance services, conducting research and evaluation, and facilitating on-the-ground cross-sector projects for a multi-pronged approach to community impact.
Currently, they are also coordinating efforts in two states to help communities become more strategic in talent development and resource allocation for philanthropic endeavors. "We are partnering with the Colorado Nonprofit Association and the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations to strengthen the human capital development process within nonprofits," says Dr. Pryor. In collaboration with nonprofit associations and other powerful partners, he and Mitchell have also architected an impressive series of seminars, organizational models, and broad-ranging initiatives to take their message public in a big—and hopefully fruitful—way. Their approach is matter-of-fact, befitting their extensive background in research. “We are beginning conversations with other states and national organizations that are also interested in not only assessing the characteristics and challenges of their own nonprofit workforce, but also in building collaborative strategies to address how to build human capital,” Mitchell reports. “In addition, we have efforts underway to pilot this effort in two developing countries,” Pryor adds.
Heading off this very real human resource deficit is taking the authors in unexpected directions and into relatively uncharted territories. Pathfinder Solutions is making groups and communities aware of their weak talent development, but they find the enlightening process is easy when compared to the relentless effort needed to repair this oversight. Pryor’s recent work has streamlined his concerns to a succinct question. "Given that philanthropy is essential to the future of our world, that demographics are shifting, and that resources and leadership are the key bellwethers of success, why is it that we are not being more deliberate about developing a strong, diverse talent pool within the foundation and nonprofit/NGO workforce?" he asks. "We need to be developing coordinated, coherent strategies to both sweep new talent into the field and strengthen the sector’s ability to grow organizational capacity."
And so, Path With A Heart, initially inspired by Desmond Tutu, went from a burgeoning collection of ideas to a much broader work in progress. “We began to write a book of invitations from people all over the globe—a number of notables, but hundreds of everyday people in all types of organizations,” says Mitchell. “The goal is to inspire involvement and interest in pursuing cause careers.”
Both Pryor and Mitchell are hopeful their book's true stories and overarching vision will translate into inspiration among the readership. Yet, pure vernacular has its limits with regard to translating facts and figures into a call to action, and the authors are well aware of the rarified atmosphere in which they find themselves. They have adopted a bird's-eye view to keep long-term sustainability for the nonprofit sector on the horizon. But to keep that view alive, they are keeping their feet on the ground. Path With A Heart encapsulates their message, however there is more they aim to accomplish. The sooner the field can enact change as opposed to researching it, the better these varied organizations around the world will be able to stave off this encroaching leadership deficit and managerial decay.
As talent and organizational capacity define sustainability and impact, what will it take to build a diverse and robust talent pool to secure the future of the philanthropic sector? Cultivation of a high-caliber workforce and superb leadership is essential to support the important work that is already under way and address the challenges of tomorrow. As always, opening your heart to new paths is a great beginning; joining Pathfinder Solutions in advancing these endeavors could be the perfect first step on a truly global journey.
Tom Hobelman is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. His work has been published in both local and national print media.
Rebecca Saltman is a social entrepreneur and the president and founder of an independent collaboration building firm designed to bridge business, government, nonprofits and academia. www.foot-in-door.com.