New Hartsook Centre leadership study shows which leadership behaviors promote strong nonprofits

by | Feb 26, 2018 | Board Members, CEO/Executive Directors, Organizational Leadership, Staff Relations, Team Building, Vision | 0 comments

A new study by the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy suggests nonprofits are completely unprepared to face looming leadership changes. The report seems to show that most nonprofits aren’t even trying.

Researchers estimate that over 67 percent of current nonprofit leaders plan on leaving their position in the next five years and that the nonprofit sector will need approximately 80,000 senior leaders annually. But less than a quarter of nonprofits in the study have a succession plan in place. And less than half identified future leaders.

The study, commissioned by Concord Leadership Group and supported by Bloomerang, Boardable, and DonorSearch, asked over 1,140 nonprofit leaders about their leadership behaviors and results. The academic study analyzes four styles of leadership: servant leadership, transformational leadership, charismatic leadership and transactional leadership. It also examines nonprofits’ strategic planning activities, succession planning and ability to fund their work.

“Planning seems not to be a priority in many nonprofits,” say Adrian Sargeant and Harriet Day, the authors of the report. “Investment in leadership is low, oversight of leadership is weak, and succession planning for key leadership roles in many organizations is notable only by its absence.”

Key Findings

Key findings include:

  1. Of the four styles, servant leadership behavior is the most popular among nonprofit leaders. Transformational and charismatic leadership are the second and third. Transactional leadership behavior is the least popular.
  2. Servant leadership behaviors have the most beneficial impact on creating a culture of philanthropy in all aspects of a nonprofit. Transformational leadership can also have a positive impact.
  3. Despite a high percentage of respondents reporting having a strategic plan in writing (83 percent), the process of “strategic planning, or many aspects of it, appears to be absent or underdeveloped in many organizations.”

Only half of leaders felt current leadership development activities ̶ primarily access to conferences and magazine subscriptions ̶ were meeting their leadership development needs. Leadership training, mentoring and coaching were the key development needs that respondents felt were currently going unmet.

“These findings are pretty dire, but they give objective, statistical quantification to the overwhelm many nonprofit leaders currently feel,” said Marc A. Pitman, CEO of The Concord Leadership Group. “We hope this data will help leaders and their boards have many more important conversations than they seem to be having around caring for current leaders and building a culture for future leaders.”

More than just a wake up call

“Proper scientific research is so rare in the charity sector,” says Jay B. Love, chief relationship officer for Bloomerang. “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!”

“This study is more than just a ‘wake-up call,’ it’s also a roadmap for nonprofits serious about surviving and thriving during these changing times,” said Jeb Banner, CEO for Boardable. “The report provides key insights that nonprofits can leverage to transform how they lead and serve.”

“This study tells us what true leaders have already accepted: Not planning strategically is just tempting fate,” says Bill Tedesco, CEO of DonorSearch. “Without a plan, you are betting other people’s future on your continued dumb luck.”

The free report is available for download at



  1. The Nonprofit Wrap-Up – February 2018 - […] New Hartsook Centre Leadership Study Shows Which Leadership Behaviors Promote Strong Nonprofits – “A new study by the Hartsook…

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