Harnessing the Entrepreneurial Spirit of Tomorrow’s Leaders


Last month, the Chronicle of Philanthropy released its “40 Under 40” list, which featured young advocates, program directors, executive directors and other nonprofit professionals who are working to find innovative solutions to our most pressing social issues. Some of the professionals who were featured were millennials who launched nonprofit start-ups to meet the needs of our evolving society. Do you recognize any emerging leaders at your nonprofit with strong entrepreneurial skills? Are you nurturing their creativity? It’s important to harness and cultivate these skills and new ways of thinking about the sector to help your organization grow into the future.

Millennials have now surpassed Gen-Xers as the largest generation in the American workforce. With C-suite vacancies on the rise, organizations recognize that they not only must develop promising young leaders to close the leadership gap, they must also provide a platform for many of us to exercise our talents and share our ideas about how to make the world a better place.

According to Rosabeth M. Kanter, chair and director of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative, “millennials can be agents of transformational change.” In an article for the Wall Street Journal, she argued that “millennials could be the C-suite’s secret weapon for innovation” because they “tend to have an entrepreneurial bias for action.”

There is often a misconception that established, long-running organizations are inflexible and not open to change, which may deter talented entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow from considering a career in nonprofit.

Flexible work schedules, competitive compensation, regular feedback, and career advancement are some of the things that are important to millennials in the workplace. When you build a culture that embraces change and new ideas, however, you may find that some of your millennial employees have creative ideas that can increase your organizational efficiency. For example, embracing technology and using social branding to better tell the story of your nonprofit are popular among millennials, and can be seen through the work of many of the leaders on Philanthropy’s “40 Under 40” list.

Millennials don’t want to use concepts that we believe are outdated to solve new challenges. We also don’t just want the train to run as usual: We want it to be high-speed, state-of-the-art and unparalleled. We want to take initiative and lead change.

In an interview with DRG last month, Bill Pasmore, author of Leading Continuous Change, explained that accepting the status quo could prohibit nonprofits from truly achieving transformative change. He said, “If you don’t start the whole process of thinking about change with a different mindset and you keep trying to apply the same mindsets that you have, then you’re going to wind up in the same place that you’ve always been.”

Organizations will find it challenging to prepare for major leadership transitions without thinking about how to best nurture the entrepreneurial spirit and desire for change and innovation that many of tomorrow’s leaders seek from their employers and the sector as a whole. For some nonprofits, that means showing high-potential millennials that they value their input, promoting employee-driven ownership of projects, providing opportunities for emerging leaders to build and execute their ideas, and offering professional development and mentors that can help them and their organizations reach for the stars.


About Sarah Waldbott

Sarah Waldbott comes to DRG as an Associate with a background in the Jewish communal sector. She has worked with a variety of nonprofit organizations in New York and Metro Detroit in both professional and volunteer capacities. Over the years, she has honed her skills in development and philanthropy, community organizing, and advocacy.

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