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The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Successful nonprofit leaders already have the right stuff to help their organizations thrive during the likely “new normal” of US federal budget cuts.


Stanford Social Innovation Review | December 18, 2017



The Stanford Social Innovation Review article, "The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same," was co-written by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultants Jamie Hechinger, Simon KingstonGary Hayes and Global Knowledge Leader Emily Meneer. They shared their insights into the four characteristics that make a successful nonprofit leader based on the research, "What Good Looks Like: Inside the Mind of the Social Justice and Global Development CEO." The article is excerpted below.

The unexpected election of President Trump and his signals regarding future support for many social causes have sent waves of anxiety rippling through the nonprofit world. The proposed 2018 budget slashes funding for many public institutions that fund essential nonprofit work: USAID faces a 30 percent decrease, and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development may need to trim 13 percent of its costs. With this political climate as backdrop, we recently requested input from more than 40 global development and social justice leaders about the leadership skills needed to navigate this “new normal.”

To our surprise, the group was significantly more upbeat than we expected about the potentially disruptive priorities of the Trump administration. Some respondents reported that many organizations have witnessed record surges in donations and supporter engagement since the election. Others highlighted the administration’s support for market-oriented solutions and collaborations between civil society and business. These partnerships could prove to be “rocket boosters” for the sector, offering new approaches, new funding models, and an escape from the bureaucracy and contract restrictions typical of traditional government grants.

The administration’s priorities will no doubt pose challenges for some organizations, but the consensus was that the sector will face greater disruptions in the years ahead, including climate change and technological innovation. These fundamental changes to the business model and financial structures are what matter most to these leaders.

Moreover, they told us the most important leadership skills will remain unchanged in the new political environment. If anything, these skills are now more important than ever before.

To identify the leadership attributes most critical to social sector CEO effectiveness, we enlisted the help of more than 60 CEOs, who completed a series of in-depth, well-validated psychometric assessments that focus on leadership-related characteristics. Since fundamental leadership attributes such as persuasiveness and strategic acumen transcend sectors, we compared the psychometric profiles of our global development and social justice CEOs to best-in-class corporate CEOs (based on a qualitative screen of performance assessment and a quantitative revenue hurdle) to identify what makes social sector leaders unique.

To read the full article​​, click here.

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The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same