Attracting — and Keeping — Talent in the Nonprofit Sector

7 12 2010

In my previous blog post, I described the Tom Barron’s ideas about empowering youth.  I have spoken to several people about this concept, and it has generated significant enthusiasm.

Recently, I traveled to Boston and had the pleasure of meeting with Mark Kramer, Managing Director of FSG Social Impact Advisors.  Mark has been an advisor to major foundation, corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations and leaders.  He had a different approach to the youth empowerment idea.

Mark said that attracting young people into the nonprofit sector is much less a problem than it was in the past.  In the 1990s, many of the brightest young people were attracted to the Silicon Valley or Wall Street.  According to Mark, the bursting of the tech bubble followed by the great recession has changed that phenomenon significantly.  Mark asserts that a significant percentage of graduates from the best business schools in the country are not only willing – but are motivated – to work in the nonprofit sector.  These people are not willing to work for $30,000 a year, because they want to raise a family and be able to send their own kids to college.  They are, however, willing to work for $80,000 or $100,000 per year in the nonprofit sector, even though they could make many multiples of that in the private sector.

As Mark explains, “the $80,000 or $100,000 salary range is what enables one to raise a family and send their kids to college – with great frugality to be sure, but without sacrificing a comfortable life.  Somehow we feel that people must make great personal sacrifices to work in the nonprofit sector and help solve social problems – however, there is a category between making sacrifices and getting rich, where the rewards of helping others are compensation enough to attract many of our country’s most talented youth.  And the added cost to our society of recruiting this talent would, I believe, be more than made up for in the greater savings from faster progress solving our social problems.”

The challenge in Mark’s view is the fragmentation of the nonprofit sector in the United States.  There are currently some 1.3 million nonprofit organizations in our country.  Mark asserts that we don’t need leadership development to get the brightest young people to run these organizations as much as we need fewer nonprofit organizations that offer more generous salaries and can attract the best management talent.  Among other things, Mark would advise The Denver Foundation to devote some resources to addressing this issue.  What do you think?

— David Miller, President and CEO, The Denver Foundation





Empowering the Next Generation: What’s our role?

18 11 2010

I recently had a “Next Decade” meeting with my good friend Tom Barron, also known as T.A. Barron.  Tom is one of the most interesting and creative people I know.

After growing up outside of Colorado Springs, Tom attended Princeton University.  He received a Rhodes Scholarship and studied at Oxford University.  Then, he got a joint law and business degree from Harvard.  Upon completing his formal education, Tom went into business in New York and ran a very successful private equity firm.

In the 1980s, Tom “retired” from his first career in the business world.  He moved back to Colorado to become a writer.  In the last 21 years, Tom has published 24 books.  I think I have read all of them.  Tom’s specialty is fantasy; he has written a series of books about the adventures of young Merlin.

Tom has a passionate love for nature and the outdoors.  In the early 1980s, he climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest.  During his ascent, Tom crossed paths with Sir Edmund Hillary, who was descending from the base camp.  Hillary led the first expedition to the summit of Mount Everest and had returned to the base camp more than 25 years later.

When I met with Tom and asked him about the future of The Denver Foundation, I anticipated that his recommendations would revolve around protecting the environment.  Somewhat to my surprise, Tom’s advice was quite different.  He suggested that The Denver Foundation focus on empowering young people. 

In Tom’s opinion, we face enormous challenges in many areas.  He believes that the key to meeting those challenges lies with the younger generations.  Tom’s advice is to give young people the confidence that they have the ability and the power to make the world a better place.

He noted that empowerment is an issue that crosses all demographic groups.  The need to empower young people is important in the most privileged socioeconomic groups as well as the least privileged socioeconomic groups in our society.

Empowerment also transcends issues.  Tom notes that young people are individual bundles of positive energy.  If they feel empowered, they will tackle the issues that are of most interest to them.  Collectively, this young energy and idealism will be the key to addressing the many problems we face.

Tom’s ideas struck a very responsive chord for me.  Every time I meet with young people, I get inspired.  Perhaps The Denver Foundation should devote more resources in the coming decade to empowering our younger generations.  What do you think?

— David Miller, President and CEO, The Denver Foundation