« Readings (and Other Stuff) - Nov. 19, 2009 | Main | Weekend Link Roundup (November 21 - 22, 2009) »

'Career Pathways' and Young Professionals

November 20, 2009

Caree_path02 Career Pathways to Philanthropic Leadership, a new "baseline" report from the Council on Foundations, has received a fair amount of attention.

Based on a quantitative study of the appointment of 440 CEOs and executive directors over four years (2004-08) and a companion qualitative project, the report was designed to develop new insights into how philanthropic organizations choose their leaders and how individuals make their way into those positions. Specifically, it looked to answer four questions:

  1. What are the professional backgrounds and profiles of CEOs and executive directors of foundations and grantmaking organizations?
  2. What are the personal demographic characteristics -- gender, race, and ethnicity -- of these individuals?
  3. What are the keys to career success and advancement for philanthropic leaders?
  4. How can the pathway to careers and positions of leadership in philanthropy be broadened to improve leadership in the field?

The key findings from the research were interesting, if not that surprising:

  • The majority (79.5 percent) of the 440 foundations that appointed new CEOs and executive directors during the study period filled them not through internal promotions but from candidates outside the organization.
  • Two-thirds of the successful candidates (63.4 percent) had served in executive positions in their immediate prior position, either as chief executive (38.9 percent) or vice president (24.5 percent).
  • The majority of the successful candidates made the transition from fields other than philanthropy -- with business (24.3 percent) and the nonprofit sector (24.8 percent) topping the list.
  • Of the successful candidates, nearly 20 percent were from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds and almost half (48.7 percent) were women.
  • Thirty percent of field leaders who were interviewed said mentors played a major role in their career advancement.
  • About 85 percent of the interviewees expressed skepticism about the willingness of trustees, search consultants, and other hiring decision makers to be influenced by leadership development efforts as they worked through their executive hiring decisions.

As a young professional at the beginning of her career who is still (sort of) figuring things out, the report struck a chord with me. I always assumed there would be a clearly marked path for me to follow once I figured out what I wanted to be and do. But I'm learning that that's not always the case, and that age-old certainties -- about career paths, compensation, even the nature of work -- are being upended at a furious pace.

The council's research also makes it clear that trying to achieve a leadership position from within the field is no easy thing and may become more difficult; that one's chances for advancement to the very top of the organizational chart are slimmer if you are a person of color; and that there's a pressing need for more and better professional development efforts within the field.

What do you think? Is the report grounds for optimism or a much-needed wakeup call for foundations? Are grantmaking institutions and nonprofit organizations doing enough to ensure that a new generation of leaders will be ready to take over as their boomer bosses retire? And are you pleased at the way your career in the sector is unfolding?

Use the comments section below to share your thoughts....

-- Regina Mahone

« Previous post    Next post »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Posted by Charles  |   November 21, 2009 at 03:40 PM

Regina, I really appreciate your reflection about navigating the philanthropic sector as a young professional. I'm in the same boat. =)

Just a few weeks ago, I transitioned out of a philanthropic/ grant making organization and now work for a direct service nonprofit. In the process of looking for job opportunities, I've learned that:

1) Young professionals are set up to potentially have to compete with one another: Job opportunities within the philanthropic sector in the current economic context is hard to come by. Already (and this is an assumption on my end), there are a lower number of jobs available in the philanthropic sector relative to the entire nonprofit field. In addition, because there is no clear pipeline within grant making organizations, one strategy for young professionals is to find another job in another grant making organization.

As a result, we end up competing with each other. I have had the experience of competing for positions with other colleagues. And, it has been really important for me to have conversations with those colleagues about recognizing that we are in competition with each other, but that there are larger factors which resulted in that competition. With this in mind, how do we support each other as fellow young professionals so that we're able to reach our professional goals and do not allow competition to damage relationships that have and could result into amazing collaborative work?

2) There is No Clear Pathway - What it Means to Create Multiple Pathway Options: For me, it's becoming less about finding one pathway, and more about creating multiple options throughout my professional career. It seems like we all have to try to figure this out especially since the future job market is so unclear. In my effort to create multiple professional options, it's been challenging yet insightful.

The major challenges for me: Planting seeds for future opportunities takes a lot of time. Balancing a full time job, building relationships that may lead to potential job opportunities and exciting projects, and being mindful about ensuring I'm not neglecting my important relationships with friends and family is a lot to take on. In addition, when exciting and fulfilling projects come up, I don't have the financial flexibility or the capital to jump into that work. In other words, sometimes finding projects that are both fulfilling and that helps pay the bills can be hard.

Though there are challenges to creating multiple options, it also has required me to ask important reflective questions that has helped to ground me and my work- that has helped me learn more about my strengths and interests. What work do you really want to do? What gets you excited? What impact do you want to have? My responses to these questions are guideposts - where I decide who and where I engage and spend my time. In addition, it has helped me expand beyond the philanthropic sector - to see how opportunities outside this sector can benefit my work and my contribution to help improve philanthropy; as someone outside of the sector, but still in relationship to it.

How have others approached and strategized about your career path(s)? What has worked for you? For those working outside of philanthropy, how have you continued to be engaged in the philanthropic sector?

Posted by Regina Mahone  |   November 24, 2009 at 05:14 PM

Hi Charles,

Thank you for composing such a thoughtful response. I really appreciate your insights and advice, especially about creating multiple pathways.

In response to your comment about "recognizing that we are in competition...," I think instead of competing with one another, we can share knowledge and personal experiences to ensure we’re not all making the same mistakes.

By focusing on learning from one another we can also build relationships that have the potential to turn into long-term "collaborative work." Of course that's probably easier said than done, but if employers can reinforce the "learning atmosphere" it is more likely to work.

Thanks again!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

Subscribe to PhilanTopic


Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Filter posts