The Importance of Developing Your Nonprofit Talent

How are you advocating for an investment in your professional development?

The Importance of Developing Your Nonprofit Talent

This summer, Associate Director Leslie Wang, had the opportunity to speak with the Greater Houston Grantmakers Forum about what it means to invest in the next generation of nonprofit leaders. To frame this conversation, the audience reviewed some sobering data about the current state of nonprofit leadership pipeline. Nonprofit HR, a national organization dedicated to supporting the talent needs of the social sector, shared 2019 data indicating that 45 percent of the 1,000+ surveyed nonprofit employees plan to leave their roles within the next five years. Their 2021 Nonprofit Talent Retention Practices Survey explores the top reasons for voluntary departures which include the following:

  • Better opportunities external to the organization (49 percent)
  • Lack of development and opportunities for growth in their current roles (44 percent)
  • Overall dissatisfaction with their current organization (34 percent)

The ramifications are clear: if nonprofits want to retain great talent, they need to create meaningful opportunities for growth, development and engagement. Yet, the same survey also indicates that the most common retention strategies deployed by nonprofits are centered around compensation and benefits, not professional development and growth. In fact, 80 percent of surveyed organizations have no formal retention strategy at all.

While this disconnect between the desire for professional development opportunities and organizational retention strategies is not new, the growing exodus from nonprofit leadership roles is. Earlier this summer, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published a feature on this issue: "Large Numbers of Nonprofit Leaders Are Stepping Down — and the Competition to Find New Ones Is ‘Fierce.'" Many nonprofit executive directors and CEOs made a commitment to help their organizations manage through the pandemic, but are now ready to step down. Parallel to this exit, the leaders who will consider stepping up have also been affected by the pandemic – they are expecting higher salaries along with more flexibility in where and when they work coupled with a more sustainable set of expectations from their boards and funders.If nonprofit organizations are to fulfill their missions, then they must also train and retain the staff that make it possible.

Does your organization have an effective retention strategy in place that includes supporting the growth of your team? At the Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership, we are your partners in creating and implementing a professional development plan that fits your organizational capacity and budget, while offering your employees the growth and professional development they seek. Start making your plan today.

About the Author

Leslie C. Wang
Leslie C. Wang, MBA
Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership
Associate Director

Leslie C. Wang, MBA, is the associate director of the Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership at Rice University. Ms. Wang came to Houston through Teach for America and taught fifth grade at Oates Elementary. She later received an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin, where she focused her studies on nonprofit management. She served as a program officer at Houston Endowment for close to a decade. During that time she developed a strong network among the nonprofit and philanthropic community, along with a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities that drive the nonprofit sector. At the Center she acts as the principal instructor for the Leadership in Action Certificate program - a hands-on, workshop-based certificate series for new nonprofit leaders - and supports additional professional development opportunities in management and governance.

The Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership provides professional development instruction and consulting for nonprofits as they strengthen their leadership, staffing, governance, finance and fundraising capacity. We offer online and in-person courses for individuals and customized engagements for nonprofit organizations. Learn more at

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