What Do Nonprofits Need More Than Funding?

It's no secret that nonprofits, particularly those that are primarily funded by state and local government, are increasingly starved for cash needed to carry out their missions. But another deficit is less apparent -- finding new and effective leaders for thousands of nonprofits at all levels: national, regional and local.

The problem, according to research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and others, affects the nonprofit sector as a whole. But solutions -- particularly for resource-starved community-based nonprofits -- may also be found at the local and regional levels, and involve other nonprofits as well as academic institutions and professional organizations.

Perhaps we can draw a lesson from the ways that successful corporations address this issue. I know from my background as a senior manager and marketing executive at consumer companies that leadership training is considered critical to the career path of the manager as well as the success of the organization.

But what can nonprofits -- particularly local and regional organizations -- do to provide training for their future leadership teams? How can they develop their existing volunteers and donors as leaders? How can they also leverage the energy, commitment and expertise of community members as future leaders through independent, community-based training programs? And how can experienced volunteers -- particularly women -- use the training to help to make the transition to nonprofit careers, utilizing the experience gained both as volunteers and in their professional lives?

Sometimes the answer lies in tapping the resources provided by other local and regional nonprofits. Within The Junior League, for example, there are a number of training programs that illustrate the opportunity:

The Junior League of Austin participates in a program called Leadership Austin that has provided training to community and non-profit leaders from all walks of life for more than 30 years. Program components include: exploring critical community issues, developing the leadership skills to address those issues, and fostering relationships to work collaboratively for positive change.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina prompted the Junior League of New Orleans to create its Get on Board program, a five-week course that provides intensive training for community members for nonprofit board leadership in New Orleans, including placement opportunities. For more than 20 years, the New York Junior League's Nonprofit Boards Clearinghouse has trained men and women to be effective board members and introduces them to dynamic New York City nonprofit agencies through a structured placement process.

The Junior League of Los Angeles' Public Policy Institute engages both JLLA members and non-members in a hands-on program to understand and influence public policy issues at the city and state levels. Another JLLA leadership program called the Appointments to Boards and Commissions Institute (ABCI) helps League members qualify for an appointment to one of California's many public boards and commissions at the local, county, and state governmental levels.

Other training opportunities can be found at academic institutions, professional organizations and advocacy groups looking to professionalize non-profit management. For example:

While there is unquestionably more that can be done, enormous strides have been made since I entered nonprofit management to increase training at all levels, from volunteers to executive directors. And this is a good trend!