While reading the latest Nonprofit Quarterly, I came across Paul Schmitz’s piece entitled, “Obama Campaign Provides Lessons for Nonprofits.” If you read this blog, you know that I’m not the biggest fan of the seeming ascension of all things Obama since his election, however I did find this article interesting in that it laid out the five best practices embodied by the Obama campaign. Specifically, I found the fifth best practice to be the most interesting. The fifth best practice was entitled, “Youth leadership.”
In particular, Schmitz says the following:
By virtue of their low pay, long hours, and high-intensity nature, campaigns are always filled with young people. But the Obama campaign recognized and empowered young leadership…The campaign’s all-hands-on-deck approach meant that the top fundraisers and policy advisors – whether they were Goldman Sachs partners, Hollywood stars, or law professors – were expected to canvass door to door and be managed by 22-year-olds. They did so, reporting for duty enthusiastically and building respectful and supportive relationships with these young field organizers rather than questioning them or taking over.
Ah! Talk about music to the young, nonprofit professional’s ears! The biggest problem that I’ve found so far in New Jersey’s nonprofit sector is the entrenchment – for better or for worse – of aging leaders. I cannot stress enough the phrase “for better or for worse” in this statement, though. There are people like Msgr. William Linder in Newark who should be involved in community development at all costs and at all times! This man is a saint for the work that he’s done to bring much needed services to the underserved communities of Newark. The same is true of so many dedicated, older professionals in the state’s nonprofit sector.
However, in my work I find many organizations that have a tremendous glut of young talent who are suppressed under an old style of management. What’s more concerning is that in New Jersey you rarely find high-level executive positions in the nonprofit field being filled by the under 35-year-old crowd. And that’s a shame because it pushes talented folks out of the nonprofit arena and into the private sector. You do see younger folks being named Executive Vice Presidents and Directors of this or that program, but that’s generally in young organizations with less than five employees and they are usually organizations that aren’t too substantial.
What I’ve seen in my own experiences are the elevation of inept individuals with little-to-no leadership skills. Actually – let’s just say that there are NO leadership skills! Anyway, reading Schmitz’s article was nice because it reminded me of how things are supposed to be.