Daring to Lead 2011
Daring to Lead is a signature initiative of the Meyer Foundation and CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. For more than a decade, Meyer and CompassPoint have worked in partnership to learn more about the tenure, career paths, and professional development challenges of nonprofit executive directors--and to spark national conversation about the importance of supporting and sustaining leaders. This work is grounded in our two organizations' shared belief that strong executive leadership is critical to organizational effectiveness.
The two previous studies in the series, released in 2001 and 2006, found that three-quarters of executives planned to leave their jobs within the next five years and that finance, fundraising, and weak boards contributed to burnout and turnover. The most recent study, Daring to Lead 2011, was conducted in the aftermath of a deep recession that continues to have a profound impact on nonprofits and their leaders.
More than 3,000 executive directors in 11 regions throughout the U.S. completed the online survey for Daring to Lead 2011, making it the largest study of executive directors conducted to date. The survey asked executives about their career paths, likely tenure, partnership with the board of directors, and the impact of the recession on their organizations. To supplement the survey, 70 executives participated in focus groups in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
The percentage of respondents who said they were leaving their job within five years—67%—was somewhat lower than the 75% who said they planned to leave within five years in both previous studies, with executives' responses suggesting that the recession may have temporarily slowed executive departures. Nevertheless, a large majority of respondents continue to anticipate their departure within five years, making executive turnover and transition an ongoing concern for nonprofits, their boards, and other stakeholders.
Other significant findings:
- Almost half of respondents (45%) said their boards had not reviewed their performance within the past year, and only 18% said that their performance review was useful.
- Most respondents—84%—reported negative organizational impact from the recession, with one in five reporting significant negative impact.
- Nearly half of respondents (46%) said their organizations had operating reserves of less than three months of expenses, even though three months is the minimum level of reserves suggested by most experts.
- Executive coaching was ranked highest by respondents as a very effective professional development strategy, but just 10% of respondents were working with a coach.
The complete 20-page report can be downloaded at www.daringtolead.org. Three briefs—Leading Through a Recession, Inside the Executive Director Job, and The Board Paradox—report additional findings. The interactive Daring to Lead website includes information about methodology, executive director demographics, and additional data.
Download the Report
Download the Briefs
Leading through a Recession, the first Daring to Lead brief, explores the main report's recession impact findings in greater depth.
Inside the Executive Director Job, the second Daring to Lead brief, provides a window into the executive role to better understand the underpinnings of job satisfaction and learn more about a leader's day-to-day work.
The Board Paradox reports that most executives are not spending a significant percentage of their time working with and supporting their boards—even though executive directors who spend more time on their boards report higher satisfaction with board performance.
For additional information about the report, please contact:
Vice President for Programs and Communications