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Sunday, 16 March 2014 22:00

ONEplace program designed to fill nonprofit leadership vacuum

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ONEplace of Kalamazoo offers no-cost training and resources to area nonprofits. The organization prioritizes leadership training programs for nonprofit executives via its 10-session Nonprofit Leadership Training Academy. The participants of a recent academy program are shown above. ONEplace of Kalamazoo offers no-cost training and resources to area nonprofits. The organization prioritizes leadership training programs for nonprofit executives via its 10-session Nonprofit Leadership Training Academy. The participants of a recent academy program are shown above. COURTESY PHOTO

As baby boomers continue to exit the workforce in greater numbers over the next few years, that’s creating a leadership vacuum at nonprofits and corporate America alike.

By some accounts, more than half of all nonprofits in the United States are being led by executive directors who are 55 years of age or older.

“In the next few years, a lot of the senior leadership and founders of these nonprofits are going to retire and move on or do something different,” said Paul Knudstrup, president of Midwest Consulting Group Inc. of Lawton. “There really hasn’t been a way for nonprofit succession planning to be done. It seems like a lot of boards have not done that.”

In response to this potential leadership vacuum, ONEplace in Kalamazoo began offering a free Nonprofit Leadership Academy designed to develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders. The idea for the academy originated with Bobbe Luce, former executive director of ONEplace, a one-stop resource for nonprofits in Kalamazoo County run through the Kalamazoo Public Library.

Now in its third year, the academy has had 54 participants, said Thom Andrews, executive director of ONEplace. Each of the participants works for nonprofits of varying sizes and missions.

“They range from folks who are leading departments or sections of larger nonprofits, down to the person in the leadership chair in a one- or two-person shop,” Andrews said. “We give them a sense of what it would look like in a large or medium-size nonprofit. We also have folks already in that chair, and it adds to and fills out what they’re doing and gives them better resources to grow their organization.”

Those interested in attending the academy must apply. Successful applicants go through an assessment process — one designed for people in managerial roles and another for people in professional roles such as program officers.

The group has 20 students in this year’s cohort. Each person is paired with a mentor for regular meetings. The academy features half-day sessions every other week that began Feb. 7 and will conclude May 16. Applications for the 2015 cohort will be available this October.

Participants in the first Leadership Academy included representatives from Communities in Schools and Kalamazoo Nature Center, although both have gone on to new executive director roles at nonprofits in the community.

“The idea is to build a group of people who have the capability to step into higher level positions,” Knudtsrup said. “If you don’t have anyone in that organization who’s been groomed to take over when the executive director retires, you have to go outside. That new person has to come in and learn that community.”

The Leadership Academy provides that cadre of people who have been recommended, groomed and taught — which means nonprofits can look within the community for new leadership rather than having to look elsewhere.

The process, so far, seems to be working, Knudstrup said.

“When a CEO or ED leaves, it would be great to be able to say here’s the heir apparent,” he said.

Succession plans have been part of the strategic planning process in the corporate sector for years. When former General Electric chairman and CEO Jack Welch was preparing to retire, he created the Office of the Chairman and put three people in place, saying that one of them would be the next CEO. GE’s board of directors picked one, and within one week after that announcement, the other two were named CEOs with other big companies.

But many nonprofits aren’t in a position to even consider succession plans because they’re being asked to do more with less, and that often results in the loss of the second-in-command position, Andrews said.

He and Knudstrup agree the nonprofit sector is facing the same push from donors to avoid the duplication of services and to form more collaborations and partnerships. In some cases, this results in the dissolving of a nonprofit or a merger with another nonprofit organization.

“I think that the approach that ONEplace is taking is a really good reflection of the Kalamazoo community and how it pulls together and has strong sense of community and place,” Knudstrup said. “The Kalamazoo Public Library is providing space and administrative support and the funders have paid for the programs, workshops, seminars and materials. To me it’s the Kalamazoo or Southwest Michigan way of helping the nonprofit sector.”

Read 2314 times Last modified on Sunday, 16 March 2014 23:23

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