Boston Foundation Forum highlights coming crisis in nonprofit leadership

April 26, 2006

Boston –A report based on new national research indicates large, nonprofit organizations face a looming crisis in leadership, as current leaders retire or change their roles. As many as 640,000 new senior managers—more than 2.4 times the total number currently employed nationally—must be recruited in the next decade alone, according to the report, which was researched and written by the Bridgespan Group, an independent nonprofit organization incubated by Bain & Company that was designed to bring the skills and insights from traditional management consulting companies to the nonprofit sector.

The report was released in March and will be discussed, Wednesday, April 26, at a Forum held at the Boston Foundation. Thomas Tierney, author of the report entitled The Nonprofit Sector’s Leadership Deficit, is co-founder and chairman of the Bridgespan Group, which was founded in 1999. A former chief executive of Bain & Company, Tierney stepped down to concentrate on the creation of a new company that would bring the high standards of management consultant from the corporate sector to the nonprofit sector.

“This report has a message of critical importance to Greater Boston because of the important role nonprofits play in our economy,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “It is imperative that we address the leadership gap as it appears here before it begins to erode the effectiveness of local nonprofits.”

This Forum is part on an ongoing effort by the Boston Foundation to provide support and visibility to nonprofit organizations in the Greater Boston region, which provide crucial programs in many areas, from health care and educational programs, to community development, after-school programs and arts and culture. In addition to financial support through grants, the Boston Foundation continues to expand beyond grantmaking, inviting the broad community to take part in an open conversation about the important work of these organizations.

Tierney’s report tracks both an increase in demand for seasoned and well trained nonprofit leaders and a decline in supply. Factors driving the gap include the imminent retirement of thousands of managers from the Baby Boom generation, the growing complexity of the nonprofit sector which has creates more roles and opportunities for experienced leaders, and the growth in size of nonprofits. By the year 2016, Tierney predicts, nonprofits will have to be recruiting almost 80,000 new senior level managers per year to meet need—at a time when experts predict billions of dollars will flow to these organizations during an unprecedented generational transfer of wealth.

“Nonprofits continue to become more important as the means to the civil, compassionate, well-functioning society we all want to live in,” said Tierney. “Today these organizations face a great challenge. We are at a crossroads. The nonprofit sector will either grow to meet our escalating demands or wither—with serious consequences for every one of us.”

The report focuses on a specific type of nonprofits: those with revenues greater than $250,000 a year, excluding hospitals, colleges and universities. This narrows the field in terms of the number of organizations tracked, but includes a large proportion of the money invested in nonprofits.

In addition to a wake-up call about the state of the talent pool on which good leadership will depend, Tierney’s report makes the case for systemic change in the way that nonprofits attract, train and retain leaders and senior managers. The sector must devote more resources to building management capacity and quality within existing organizations, increase pay and other incentives to draw and retain managers—while increasing the performance standard against which these managers are measured.

In addition, there is a new urgency to the need for nonprofits to strengthen their recruiting tools and expand their recruiting pools. This includes developing more comprehensive career ladders that will appeal to young job seekers who may not have included nonprofits among their original employment goals, creating better in-house strategies for training and promotion, and working to appeal to highly skilled managers from other fields who may have retired but who would welcome the opportunity to play a constructive and rewarding role in their community.

The Forum, which is entitled Managing for Mission: The Leadership and Talent Imperative, will include a welcome from Paul S. Grogan of the Boston Foundation, a keynote address by Thomas J. Tierney, and a panel discussion. The panel will be moderated by Jackie Jenkins-Scott, President of Wheelock College and a member of the Board of Directors of the Boston Foundation. Panel members will include Chrystal Kornegay, Deputy Director of the Urban Edge Community Development Corporation; Juan Martinez, Executive Director of MassVOTE; and Marylou Sudders, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Questions will be invited from members of the audience, as well.

The Forum will begin at 8:30 a.m., after a continental breakfast which will begin at 8 a.m., and conclude at 10:30 a.m.


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with an endowment of over $730 million.  In 2005, the Foundation and its donors made more than $60 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of more than $70 million.  The Foundation is made up of some 850 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.  The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges.  For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit or call 617-338-1700.