Work-life demands intense for CEOs at nonprofits
BY CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN
A nonprofit leader, Saliha Nelson, 41, has dragged her two kids with her to community meetings, written grant proposals in the middle of the night, and even substituted for sick workers at youth after-school programs: “I want the organization to be successful, so I do whatever it takes.”
When you lead a nonprofit, where the end game is about making the community a better place to live, the workload can be immense and the emotions intense. It’s a big responsibility — and one that people in their 20s and 30s aren’t rushing to undertake.
As the demand for leaders in nonprofits increases, young workers say they don’t want to make the work-life sacrifices required of nonprofit executives like Nelson, who leads Miami’s Urgent Inc., which supports low-income youth with after-school and camp programs, according to research by the Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C.
The 2008 study of 6,000 next-generation leaders shows that even young workers already employed at nonprofits are wary of rising to executive positions, an outlook researchers say hasn’t improved in the past five years. While the daily responsibilities for nonprofit chief executive can vary with the size and scope of the organization, the deterrents include low earning potential and an expectation of doing more with less. “Young people are saying, ‘I can still do good and help out with causes whether or not I work for [a nonprofit],’ ” says Derrick Feldmann, CEO of Achieve, which helps organizations reach younger generations of donors and volunteers.
As the nation struggles to recover from the economic downturn, the pressure on executive directors to deliver has intensified. Leaders must manage their organization’s internal operations and programs, be the public face of the organization, attend events, and work harder at courting donors and identifying funding sources. Because of small budgets and a lack of resources, “as executive director, you are trying to make up for the deficits yourself, and it becomes way more than a 40- or 50-hour-a-week job,” says Rick Moyers, vice president of communications at the Meyer Foundation, which invests in visionary leaders and effective community-based nonprofit organizations.
Most leaders say passion for the cause outweighs the personal trade-offs. “I like giving services to communities who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford them,” explains Kathleen Cannon, CEO of United Way of Broward County.
On a given day, Cannon, 49, races from morning meetings with business partners to the office to meet with her board or staff. On weekends, she often will attend a Saturday night gala or a community fundraiser: “I have to get in front of people and remind them of the difference they are making.”
In her off hours, the single mother raises a teenage son.
“It takes an unbelievable commitment,” she says of her work with United Way. “This is a partnership with the community like none other, a way to create big change.”