Professional Development in Non-profits

Jo-Louise Huq (PhD, MBA) & Kathryn York (MBA). February, 2019.

Canada’s non-profit sector includes over 170,000 charitable and non-profits organizations, according to Imagine Canada.[i]The sector contributes substantially to Canadian GDP, and millions of Canadians are employed by and volunteer in nonprofits and charitable organizations. 

In our work with non-profit leaders and managers, we are consistently amazed at how much these motivated, mission-driven individuals are able to accomplish individually and collectively. However, we also recognize, as did the HR Council, a Canadian non-profit that operated from 2005-2013, that:

By and large, those currently occupying senior leadership positions in nonprofits came up through the ranks and had little if any formal leadership or management training. Passion for the organization’s mission is an important but no longer sufficient competency for the lead job.[iii]

This lack of formal leadership and management training is concerning, especially as the non-profit sector and organizations are experiencing trends that demand leadership and management competency. In a 2017 blog, Joanne Cave of The Philanthropist identified three trends, including:  

… increased emphasis on “decent work” and human resource best practices; … a “tipping point” for social innovation and social finance; and … increased reliance on shared platforms and administrative outsourcing.[ii]

Our experience also suggests that non-profits are having to contend with pressures to:

  • introduce new evidence-informed frameworks (ways of working),
  • evaluate program and service delivery and change,
  • report on impact, and
  • work collectively to achieve organizational and sector objectives.

Responding to these pressures will require foundational management and leadership capabilities, but also strategic management and decision-making; planning, implementing, and evaluating change; assessing and reporting on impact; working collaboratively; and encouraging innovation.

Aligned with Cave, we believe that there is a critical need to “reignite the dialogue … to more adequately address the sector’s professional development needs”.

In addition to dialogue, we feel that there is a critical need to develop leadership and management training opportunities that are high quality, accessible, and immediately useful for individuals who are embedded in the day-to-day work of operating their mission-focused organizations. Such opportunities would complement traditional education that is not always accessible to nonprofit leaders and managers.[v]

This blog is our attempt to start conversations to explore what leadership and management capabilities are needed in the non-profit sector and how training and coaching can be provided in a way that provides value for non-profit leaders and managers.

We invite your thoughts and insights.


[i]Imagine Canada. (2019). Sector Stats, Infographic.http://www.imaginecanada.ca/sites/default/files/infographic_sector_imaginecanada2018_0.pdf

[ii]Cave, J. (2017).  “Signals of Transformation: What Will 2017 Bring for Canada’s Non-profit Sector?” The Philanthropisthttps://thephilanthropist.ca/2017/01/signals-of-transformation-what-will-2017-bring-for-canadas-non-profit-sector/

[iii]HR Council (2017). The State of Leadership Development: An exploratory study of social service charities in Alberta and Saskatchewan. http://www.hrcouncil.ca/about/documents/HRC_State_of_Leadership_Development_1110-1.pdf

[iv] CCVO. (2018). Lighting the Way: The State of the Alberta Nonprofit Sector 2018. https://ccigsolutionsblog.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/84f89-stateofthesector2018.pdf

[v]HR Council (2017). The State of Leadership Development: An exploratory study of social service charities in Alberta and Saskatchewan. http://www.hrcouncil.ca/about/documents/HRC_State_of_Leadership_Development_1110-1.pdf

Published by CCIG | Collaborating, Changing, Innovating, EnGaging

I am a 'pracademic,' a practitioner of collaborative change and innovation who also conducts and publishes research on collaboration, change, and innovation. This is my personal blog, and I use it to communicate about my and other's research, publications, and ideas related to change, innovation, and collaboration.

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