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Making space for emerging leaders is key to building a better nonprofit sector

Making space for emerging leaders is key to building a better nonprofit sector

Last fall’s Nonprofit Driven conference gave ONN an excellent opportunity to touch base with emerging nonprofit leaders. At the session, Developing the next generation of nonprofit leaders through decent work, panelists and participants shared their views on challenges facing younger workers. They provided a clearer picture of the sector as a whole, while also adding perspective on different experiences – and opportunities – going forward in 2020.

The good news? For many workers, things are improving. A quick survey showed that 85 per cent of respondents supported the view that young leaders are making headway in their respective organizations.

The session also provided a chance to connect. More than 150 people in different organizations, in different positions, and from different regions engaged with each other. Based on their feedback, it’s clear we need to make space for emerging leaders if we want to build a stronger nonprofit sector.

Additional insights from the session include:

  • Many aspiring leaders still feel that working conditions, pay, and benefits pose a challenge to their long-term engagement with the sector. For example, one young worker shared how she spent five years working part time in various positions, off and on at the same organization before she was finally granted full time status. 
  • Standard organizational structures are shutting young workers out of decision-making processes. Many in the room agreed there is a generation gap between senior leaders and managers and younger workers, particularly around engagement and communications. Participants identified a lack of information on career and salary expectations in organizations. They were also concerned how seeking ‘authenticity’ and ‘transparency’ by some younger workers is deemed ‘unprofessional’ by more senior staff.
  • Many organizations lack a budget for professional development. This was a source of frustration for young workers, part-time, and personal support workers especially. 
Emerging leader panelists speak at Nonprofit Driven 2019

  • It’s vital that the sector as a whole supports young Indigenous workers in both Indigenous-led and non-Indigenous nonprofit organizations.
  • Many aspiring leaders would like to learn more about the business of running a nonprofit. They felt organizations could do more to include staff in budgeting and financial work to help them build skills in these areas.
  • Participants felt that the need for formal credentials in the sector blocks advancement for younger workers. They suggested organizations consider ways to credit lived experience and volunteer experience.
  • Organizations need to do more to acknowledge systemic barriers that younger workers face. Participants felt that leadership conversations too often revolve around ‘can-do individualism.’ They don’t take into consideration challenges faced by young workers who are new to the country, as well as the impacts of racism and sexism, which affect their ability to self-advocate.
  • Organizations should be more transparent and responsive around cutbacks. Participants suggested ways layoffs could be announced and managed, including considering the possibility of hiring staff back at a later date, and whether training/retraining opportunities could be provided.
  • Funding practices should change to ensure longer-term resilience. Greater support for general operations, unrestricted funds, and multi-year funding will help ensure organizations and staff alike can do their important work in the community.

We look forward to sharing more insights as we engage emerging leaders over the coming year. And you can read more highlights from 2019’s Nonprofit Driven here.

We would like to thank Alyssa Lai for moderating the session, as well as the following panelists for sharing their perspectives: Gabrielle Fayant, Founder of Assembly of Seven Generations, Connie Ndlovu, a personal support worker working in the nonprofit sector, Troy Budhu, a community organizer with the Toronto Community Benefits Network, and Bonnie Hunter, Director of Talent and Innovation at North York Community House.



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