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Dear Nonprofit Sector Colleague:

Welcome to Work With Me: Intergenerational Conversations for Nonprofit Leadership – six provocative sessions about
intergenerational tension and transition in our organizations. Our purpose? To foster cross-generational dialogue
that encourages knowledge exchange and leadership development in the nonprofit sector.
The motivation for this project is “ripped from the headlines.” According to a growing body of news and research
reports, generational leadership change is hurtling toward us – along with its associated challenges. And it
presages significant change in the nonprofit sector. The large and influential Baby Boom generation that founded,
and still leads, so much of our sector is heading toward retirement age. Those who belong to that cadre can't seem
to decide whether they want to go or how long they want to stay. As one veteran leader told Frances Kunreuther at
the Building Movement Project, “I'll probably keep doing this stuff until I drop dead. In fact, I'll probably drop dead right
in this chair. Like, I always tell my staff, one day somebody's going to come in, in the morning, I'm going to be dead.”
Meanwhile, Next Generation leaders are also ambivalent. On the one hand, they want to step up and lead. On the
other hand, they don't want to follow the Boomers down the path of workaholism and hierarchy. As a Next
Generation leader put it to Kunreuther, “How do you maintain power, respect, be the young face but still have some
power?... And do I ever want to be an executive director? Like, do I ever want to run an organization?”
How do we help long-time directors effectively transfer skills and knowledge while they're still on the scene? How
do we help veteran staff turn over the reins? How do we develop a new cadre of nonprofit leaders? How do we
share power across generations? And how do we create new ways of doing things so that we retain and sustain our
talent?
Over 400 members of the nonprofit sector raised these questions at the first meeting of the Nonprofit Congress in
2006 and left the gathering determined to find some answers. Soon thereafter, the Leadership Working Group of
the Nonprofit Congress was formed. The group decided to go beyond restating the obvious about nonprofit
leadership, to inform and inspire action at the individual and organizational level - quite frankly, to change our
behavior and approach.
The goal of the working group is to strengthen the nonprofit sector's workforce and leadership by supporting
emerging leaders and capturing knowledge from established leaders through intergenerational transfer of
knowledge. But what we really want to do is nurture each other through the process of personal and
organizational transition, while we sustain and advance the work we cherish. Because no matter what generation
we're in, we want to leave both our organizations and our world better than we found them.
The problem is clear. The solution is not.
The Nonprofit Congress Leadership Working Group examined the knowledge transfer problem for more than six
months (for more on the process, please check out the Background section). There were a lot of reports and
studies, instigated by academic curiosity and foundation angst, about the imminent departure of the Boomers and
the challenges of leadership transition. Here are just a few notable facts:
• The nonprofit sector is relatively new. Of more than 900,000 nonprofits registered as 501(c)(3)s in 2002, only
138 had ruling dates prior to 1920.1 A sector that accounted for less than 1 percent of jobs in 1900 employs
9 percent of the population today.2
• The nonprofit sector is booming. In 1996, there were just over 1 million registered nonprofits. By 2006, the
number had jumped 36.2 percent to 1,478,194.3
• The sector is now undergoing a massive shift in leadership. In 2004, the Building Movement Project reported
that out of 2,200 nonprofit organizations, 65% expected to go through a leadership transition within five
years. Fifty-five percent of the current executive directors surveyed were 50 or older.4

1
Kunreuther, Frances, Ludovic Blain and Kim Fellner. Generational Leadership Listening Sessions. The Building Movement
Project. http://www.buildingmovement.org/artman/uploads/glls_report_001.pdf.
2
Kunreuther, Frances, et al.
3
National Center on Charitable Statistics. Urban Institute.
4
Kunreuther, Frances. Up Next: Generation Change and the Leadership of Nonprofit Organizations. The Building Movement
Project. 2005. http://www.buildingmovement.org/artman/publish/cat_index 31.shtml.

4
• Nonprofits with revenues over $250,000, excluding hospitals and institutions of higher education, will need
to attract and develop some 640,000 new senior managers over the course of the next decade.5
• “The lack of adequate mentorship and broader intergenerational dialogue means that important lessons of
history and experience are inadequately transmitted, or are lost to a new generation.” 6
Given all the fuss, you'd think there would be many intergenerational models and practical tips to help move us
along. And there are some: mostly sincere and prescriptive documents about how to bring new and more diverse
leadership into the sector or how to mentor students and young leaders. But most of the studies are like
exhortations to eat your spinach – full of what we ought to do, without much sense about why it so rarely gets
done or much practical guidance on how to do what is needed. And when it comes to intergenerational
exchanges beyond mentoring, we found almost nothing.
It was obvious to the Leadership Working Group that this issue is tangled, complex, and laden with emotion. To
uncover the knowledge locked in the heads and hearts of our seasoned Baby Boomers and encourage our Next
Generation colleagues to commit to the sector, we needed to provide a safe space for self-discovery. We wanted
to offer some tools and take the time to dig below the surface and get beyond the generational lines that so often
divide and define us.
So we decided to be a little bit daring and experimental, and travel where too few have gone before. Work With
Me is the result.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
• This is a work in progress – a beginning, not an end. These pieces will evolve through our experiences as
we try them out and critique them. We fully expect that some will work well, some will need tweaking, duds
will be tossed out, and new components will be added.
• The dialogues have been designed with flexibility in mind. They are ordered in a logical learning
sequence (or so we think), but you could choose to skip one, or just to do one piece that seems particularly
relevant and forego the rest. Each piece is designed to take roughly 90 minutes to two hours. Many can be
broken up into components that can be part of a long lunchtime gathering or a staff meeting. The pieces
together could also be a day-long training, or two could form a morning or afternoon workshop. Do what
works for you.
• We've included step-by-step instructions for these six sessions, along with templates for the hand-
outs, props, etc. Most of what you need to host the dialogues can be found in this document; there are
checklists for any additional supplies you might need to acquire.
• The exercises employ the use of stereotypes to drive home the perceived age and generational
differences that separate us. According to the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, a stereotype is a way of
representing and judging other people in fixed, unyielding terms. Stereotypes can revolve around a certain
perceived characteristic of the group of persons to which they are assigned. We are using these stereotypes as
a way to frame a discussion and hopefully, through these dialogues, can work to get rid of them.
• These pieces combine serious intent with a somewhat humorous and irreverent style. You will find
some theatrics, props, and whimsy thrown in with the information. Sure, we need to propel ourselves to take
positive action, but a little laughter can't hurt.
Have fun, and let us know how it goes!
Kim

5
Tierney, Thomas J. The Nonprofit Sector's Leadership Deficit. The Bridgespan Group. March 2006.
http://www.bridgespangroup.org/PDF/LeadershipDeficitWhitePaper.pdf.
6
Kunreuther, Frances, et al.