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Finding Future Leaders
by Sandra Trice Gray

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Cultivate strong leaders for tomorrow by involving them today.

As both public and private sectors of our nation continue to look to the independent sector at to fulfill a vital role in our society, INDEPENDENT SECTOR (IS), as an organization, realized a need to address the issue of attracting and retaining strong, competent leaders.

The first step IS took was to invite young people (ages 18-30) to participate in its annual meetings, beginning with our 1994 meeting. Some serve as panelists while others contribute to the general dialogue. At the meeting, IS members wear badges indicating a willingness to talk with or assist young people attending the meeting. At our 1995 meeting, we also convened a concurrent session for young people attending the meeting. At our 1995 meeting, we also convened a concurrent session for young people and emerging leaders to develop strategies for cultivating future leadership within IS and the independent sector at large. Here are some of the recommendations made.

  • Develop a young-colleague network to build community and provide networking opportunities.
  • Create membership opportunities for young people to be a part of IS.
  • Make sure young people are on every IS committee and task force.
  • Challenge every IS member to bring at least one young person to the annual meeting each year.
  • Create the Emerging Leader Fellowship whereby young people from member organizations will compete for a stipend allowing them to serve in a nonprofit organization or foundation for one year.

The next step IS took was to form a task force on future leadership. This group of 22 diverse, thoughtful, and experienced people-including young leaders-addressed issues related to finding, attracting, and developing future leaders. The task force determined that 1) no magic cures or complete answers to this challenge exist; and 2) it isn?t enough to develop leadership capacity. Leadership must be conceived and promoted with the purpose of serving the common good.

Within one year of being organized, the task force made these recommendations to IS member organizations:

  1. Develop paid internship programs that introduce high-caliber young people to an independent sector career.
  2. Offer young people meaningful volunteer opportunities.
  3. Develop and participate in mentoring programs.
  4. Pursue every avenue when recruiting staff (e.g., college career centers, ethnic and community organizations, contacts in under-represented communities, and so forth).
  5. Develop a local speakers bureau through which schools and community organizations can find sector leaders who can give testimony to the value of their work.
  6. Offer options: flexible work schedules, full- or part-time work-at-home arrangements, job sharing, and outsourcing.
  7. Provide staff development, including staff exchange programs.
  8. Partner with other organizations to provide professional development opportunities.
  9. Look beyond the traditional inner circle when seeking new board members.

If we as organizations want to find strong future leaders, we need to include young people ? and consider their perspectives ? in everything we do. If we do that, we?ll be better able to meet the coming challenges and opportunities of our constantly changing environment.


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