All Right, Everyone, We Need To Freak Out More About Nonprofit Leadership


By: Sarah Marczynski

In: Arts Admin

The always brilliant Vu Le has a December 2015 post on his blog, Nonprofit With Balls, starting the freak out about nonprofit leadership.  The typical freak out going on is over Boomers who are retiring and the concern that this causes a leadership gap.  But, Le instead encourages us to look at other leadership challenges that are appearing.

Leaders aren’t reflective of the communities we serve.  Only 18% of nonprofit professionals are people of color, but likely a majority of people who we serve are minorities.  Moreover, women make up a significant part of the nonprofit sector, but a majority of nonprofits are led by men.

Arts organizations may actually buck this trend, but not in a good way.  The audience that most of our organizations have traditionally served have been wealthy and white.  So, perhaps we do look like our audiences, but shouldn’t we be striving for different audiences?  You can’t have a different audience if your leadership doesn’t look like them.

Leaders don’t have time to do their jobs.  A huge weakness of our sector is that we are turning brilliant leaders into brilliant fundraisers. Development is an essential element of our work, and some of the smartest most talented professionals in our sector are fundraisers, but the balance is off. All of us are spending more and more of our time and energy freaking out about money instead of working with our teams to think about systemic issues and collaborating with others to address them.

#PREACH.  You can’t be engaging or creating new series if you’re busy writing grants when you’re not the development director.

Leaders are leaving the sector. Perhaps due to the above and other factors, I’ve been seeing more and more leaders packing it up and calling it in.

Less than 1% of foundation grant dollars go to leadership development, but the goal by the Talent Philanthropy Project is to get that to 5%.  Le outlines several ways that that increased grant money can go towards leadership like paid internships, professional development, sabbaticals, and increasing pay and benefits and then in turn create stronger, capable leaders.  And then maybe we can stop freaking out.

All Right, Everyone, We Need To Freak Out More About Nonprofit Leadership
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Sarah Marczynski
Sarah joined the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera in 2010 working with the Marketing and Development staffs and quickly became interested in community engagement and education. She holds a Master’s of Public Administration focusing in Nonprofit Arts Management from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where her capstone and other work under Dr. Christopher Horne examined attendance patterns in high-art cultural institutions and network relationships between local arts agencies and cultural partners. She also holds a Bachelor’s of Vocal Music Education from UTC, where she studied under Dr. Kevin Ford and Ron Ulen. Sarah has been active in the Chattanooga arts community, serving as the founding chair of the Chattanooga Young Artistic Network (CYAN), graduating from the Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute, and working with the Chattanooga Boys Choir, the Choral Arts Society, the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Chattanooga Bach Choir. Outside of the arts world, Sarah pretends to be an excellent cook (but she's broken 2 ovens), reads Jane Austen novels, and watches way too much House of Cards.
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