Did foundations create the nonprofit leadership gap?

Much has been made of the upcoming leadership deficit in the nonprofit sector. Baby Boomers are retiring (or not able to because of low nonprofit salaries and/or lack of a retirement plan) and younger workers are unwilling to take on nonprofit leadership positions because of low pay and long hours or unable to take on those positions because of student loan debt, credit card debt, and increasing health care costs.

For-profit businesses invest in professional development for their up and coming staff members to ensure that the company remains profitable. By preparing a “ladder of leadership” for-profits make sure that the culture of the organization is larger than just the current leadership and ensures the organization can continue to thrive in a competitive marketplace.

It disappoints me greatly to say that foundations, not the great wave of demographic change, are the root of this coming leadership crisis. Demographics will make it impossible to continue to ignore the crisis of leadership but it is something that has been brewing for some time now. Foundations rarely invest in succession planning or professional development. Non-profit programming is the cash cow for organizations and nonprofits are penalized for high overhead costs. I am definitely not a fan of overhead, for overhead sake but nonprofits need to pay a competitive salary, offer benefits, and invest in the ongoing development of staff at all levels or else they will unable to continue to provide the services that are so needed in our communities.

Do you believe foundations are responsible for the leadership gap? What could we do differently to create organizational capacity and cross-generational institutional leadership?