Envision a Nonprofit Leadership Development System

Metropolitan Milwaukee is home to over 6,000 nonprofit organizations. Certainly, this many nonprofit managers deserve a cohesive effort to encourage their development into leaders that will address our social woes and add vibrancy to our communities.

Every sub-sector from the arts to education and from social services to philanthropy has challenges that could benefit from vocal and talented champions, and of course, each organization has a greater chance of flourishing if it is led by a strong and skilled executive.

Although rudimentary in its design, my systemic approach to nonprofit leadership development in Milwaukee would equip our local leaders with necessary skills to advance their visions for a stronger and more robust community. The eleven apps can each unlock potential within individuals and/or organizations. Together, they complement each other’s contributions and simultaneously achieve greater community impact.

  • Fund career-capstone fellowships for transitioning or retired leaders that would benefit the community and capture their advice for future leaders. 
  • Assist nonprofits in creating succession plans for emergency situations, continual growth, or planned departure transitions.

  • Strengthen networking and service opportunities with professional development associations.


  • Partner with southeastern Wisconsin academic programs in nonprofit management, ensuring that the curricula includes courses on leadership.


  • Publish the leadership program inventory online, with the ability to mix and match offerings and provide feedback loops.


  • Organize diverse leadership cohort sessions.


  • Facilitate mentoring and coaching relationships, beginning with an online matching process and a high-touch personalized process as well.


  • Implement a sabbatical program for experienced leaders to be reinvigorated with new ideas to implement locally.

  • Create a second-in-command program that would enhance collaboration and cultivate relationships.


  • Widely promote web-based leadership resources, including best practices and affordable initiatives.


  • Make grants available for leaders to attend national, regional, and local conferences, then share what they learned.

For more detailed information about these recommendations, read the report “Strengthening the Visionaries of the Future” on the Nonprofit Management Fund’s website.

A serious investment in a nonprofit leadership development system would help ensure that the leaders of tomorrow would be more skilled and better equipped to move our community forward. Foundations, corporations, and others could advance a community-wide effort to coordinate myriad pathways for new, emerging, and veteran leaders.

2 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Karen Higgins | July 09, 2014 at 04:31 PM EDT

Such a systematic approach to strengthening executive leadership is critical to helping invigorate the efforts of Exec's of nonprofits. I know from personal experience how lonely and challenging it can be to be an Executive Director. Funding issues, personnel problems,and adequate Board leadership are all things that keep us awake at night. Our mission drives us into the sector but what's asked of us in oversight can use ways to be supported and informed, even as tough decisions have to be made. Care of the sector means also care for its leadership.

2. Frank Martinelli | August 10, 2014 at 08:56 PM EDT

I love this idea and think it would fill an important need. Can the apps include a collection of profeesiobal development planning frameworks so that people using the aaps would be aboe to create a personalized leadership development plan for themselves

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