Talk with a nonprofit leader for any amount of time and you will likely hear them say, “It feels like we are building the bridge as we are crossing it.” The latest data backs this sentiment. This is particularly troubling in the sector with the third largest workforce – behind only retail trade and manufacturing. A sector that manages over $3 trillion in assets. And a sector that is the critical safety net, as well as an important quality of life enhancer, in each of our communities. If this were in the private sector, it would be called “too big to fail.”

The data from the Concord Leadership Group’s latest study – out today – pinpoints why. The research shows that:

  • up to 49% of nonprofit leaders are operating without a strategic plan;
  • 61% of nonprofit CEOs are not having their performance evaluated at least annually; and
  • 42% of nonprofits do not have any formal performance evaluation systems at all.

Strategic wishing?

Nonprofit Sector Leadership Report 2016 [data infographic] (Web resolution)More disturbingly, the data suggests that what nonprofit leaders call a “strategic plan” is closer to a “strategic wish” or “just a nice idea.” Common organizational leadership agrees that funding plans are critical to responsible organizational planning. Yet 62% of leaders say their nonprofit’s strategic plan does not include a fundraising plan!

When we looked deeper, the data revealed some surprising insights into why a strategic plan even is important to a nonprofit. For example, leaders with a strategic plan are 1.5 times more likely to agree that their nonprofit has a vision shared by all stakeholders. Less than half of those without a plan are able to agree. So the effort of creating a written plan can even help leaders lead with less stress.

Planning to fail?

Another shocking finding is that while over one-third of leaders say their staff turnover is high, more than three-fourths of leaders do not have a succession plan or even a leadership development program in place. Staff turnover is costly to organizations in both hard and soft costs. But in the study many respondents listed “offering benefits” as a “creative recruitment strategy” in their nonprofit. Benefits have become an expectation for job seekers, not a “creative surprise.” With out-of-touch strategies like this and a reported 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every day, nonprofits around North America are in for a rough ride. A ride many organizations might not survive.

Too big to fail

Whether in services offered or salaries paid, the nonprofit sector is vital to the fabric of our communities. It really is too big to fail.

But the sector does not need a government bailout. Leaders need to lead. Out-of-date, dysfunctional systems need to be changed.

We offer the 2016 Nonprofit Sector Leadership Report as a tool to arm you with the data you need to have those tough conversations. The report goes into more depth on strategic planning, looks at recruiting and retaining talent, and even examines why nonprofits may not be getting their message out to a wider audience.

See how your nonprofit leadership measures up against the data. Download the full report for free, go to

Claim your copy of Wake Up Call - the 2018 Nonprofit Sector Leadership Report

"Proper scientific research is so rare in the charity sector. This report truly adds to the body of knowledge that nonprofit leaders can trust and use. Those who digest this report and plan strategies around its findings will be leading the best charities of the future!"

- Jay B. Love, Chief Relationship Officer

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