The naked non-profit (Meyer Foundation Report)


Have you ever wondered what it’s like to lead a non-profit? The Meyer Foundation conducted the largest national survey to date of emerging nonprofit leaders. They asked close to 6,000 people across the country about the disadvantages and benefits of heading a nonprofit organization.

meyer foundation

When I read this report, I immediately thought: “Wow, I’m not alone!”

You’ll have an intimate peek of my life and anyone leading a non-profit organization, charity, association or community.

Read the full report from the Meyer Foundation

“What we learned was sobering. War for talent or no, those who care about the health of the
charitable sector—those who believe, as we do, that strong nonprofit leaders are the best predictors
of organizational success—can draw both warning and inspiration from the results of this survey.”

* In 2006 the Meyer Foundation, working in partnership with CompassPoint Nonprofit
Services, released a report showing that three out of four executive directors planned to leave
their jobs within the next five years.

* These leaders cited a lack of adequate compensation, burnout, and overwhelming fundraising responsibilities as reasons for their departure. The survey and focus groups for this follow-up study show that emerging leaders are acutely aware of these challenges. They see the executive directors of their own organizations struggle, and often fail, to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Not surprisingly, many next generation leaders wonder how they would fare as heads of their own organizations.

* Money issues loom large for many of these would-be leaders. Close to two-thirds of our survey respondents report having financial qualms about committing to nonprofit careers.

* Over two-thirds (69 percent) feel they are underpaid for the work they currently do. Focus group participants discussed having to forego luxuries their friends could easily afford. Some described how they had to take on second jobs to supplement their nonprofit salaries.

* A report by The Bridespan Group, for example, indicates that by 2016 the nonprofit sector will need 80,000 new senior managers each year, 40 percent more each year than is currently required. Demand pressures and a constrained supply will challenge nonprofit boards of directors and recruiters who must compete against
government and business for talented leaders.

The survey results described in this report tell us a lot about ourselves, and not all of it is flattering. The wisdom on the streets—confirmed to some degree by this study—is that we tend to undervalue nonprofit work and the people who do it. Even those of us who should know better sometimes fall prey to the notion that important charitable work can and should happen at a discount. This same idea animates the view that professionals who toil at nonprofits ought to work longer hours and for less pay than their for-profit counterparts. Where does this idea come from? Perhaps we’ve all heard too many charitable organizations promise that 100 percent of our donated dollars will support those who are most in need. Our desire to cut out the middle men—those who actually feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick— might also be rooted in the notion that acts of giving ought to be kept “pure.” The archetype of the charitable act includes a generous donor and a grateful supplicant. It leaves little room for the people who do the very hard work of delivering nonprofit services.

We undervalue these people at our peril. Nonprofit executive directors are burning out and leaving the sector in alarming numbers. Meanwhile, emerging leaders are thinking twice about stepping into the breach. This is a great shame when we consider the extraordinary vision and values that drew these talented people into our sector in the first place.

So what are some solutions?

According to Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace prize winner, the solution is a social business that can create a world without poverty. You can read more below:

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below

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  • Sounds interesting.Today its the 12th my rent is unpaid ,why ,coz i am leading a not-for-profit!It i was working for a for-profit i would not be in this!

    And the thoughts of living are always hovering above me ,only that i love what i do

  • Sheila Sky

    The view from the trenches in Canada is little different and there is a very high rate of "defection" to the business world by leaders and administrators who have transferable skills. This is especially so in the arts world -- where earnings are roughly half of the rest of the non-profit sector (which are roughly half of the standard wage). The choice to become a non-profit leader means that you must accept the reality that you will make only 25% of someone with comparable skills. Arts Councils are rightly developing some serious concerns about succession and sustainability.

  • Pete

    Brice, this is a great report. We used the Ready to Serve report to launch our local YNPN organization. I found the results fascinating and, at the same time, alarming. There's no better time, than now, to embrace this issue.

    Great work.


  • Thanks for shedding light on this existing problem.I raise funds for non profits on a daily basis in the USA and for this exact reason a group of former Professional Athletes created a company called Shop To Fundraise.We need to think outside the box as there is great potential to help without giving extra cash or volunteer hours as they're already stretched thin.Let me know if I can help anyone in the USA.

  • I agree with the report. I saw an earlier version on Compass Point a year ago. What I don't see is a collective effort by non profit leaders to educate donors so these conditions might change. I think that's because leaders are so focused on their own survival and self interest.

    In the end billions of dollars get spent in the charity sector, but it does not add up to long-term benefit because of the weakness in the human capital side.

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