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Not for Profit Sabbaticals Improve Capacity

24 February 2010 at 12:01 pm
Staff Reporter
New study exposes the myth that a Not for Profit executive sabbatical will cause chaos in an organisation.

Staff Reporter | 24 February 2010 at 12:01 pm


Not for Profit Sabbaticals Improve Capacity
24 February 2010 at 12:01 pm

Sabbaticals for Not for Profit leaders can be a relatively inexpensive but highly productive capacity-building tool that yields measurable results according to a new study.

Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector provides emerging evidence of the benefits to Not for Profit organisations, leaders, funders, and the sector.

In the report’s executive summary it says the stresses and demands of leadership make intellectual, emotional, creative, and even physical burnout all too common among Not for Profit executives.

It says one of the most effective and cost efficient ways to prevent this from happening is the sabbatical. A “time away” from the daily grind of high-pressure work routines can rejuvenate body, mind, and spirit. It can also bring an executive to new perceptions and re-framings that ultimately create greater leadership capacity in his or her organization.

Yet, it says the idea of granting an executive a sabbatical rarely comes up for consideration. Common assumptions are that a leader who enjoys a taste of freedom from the job will never return, or that an extended, if temporary, vacancy in the executive director’s (ED) chair will create chaotic disruption in an organisation and keeps proposal for sabbaticals well off the table. The typical refrain from a Not for Profit leader: “I could never go to my board with this…”

The study by CompassPoint exposes the myth that an executive sabbatical will be a chaotic disruption, finding instead that the creative disruption of a well-planned sabbatical can be productive for the entire leadership of an organisation.

The report recommends funding sabbaticals as a best practice in philanthropy for extending the tenures of executive directors, for strengthening their second-tier leadership, and for deepening funders’ understanding of the challenges faced by Not for Profit leaders.

The study found that organisational capacity is increased as the second tier of leadership takes on new responsibilities. It found that governance is strengthened as a result of the planning and learning that goes with a sabbatical process. Even more beneficial, it found that executive directors come back rejuvenated, with a fresh vision and innovative ideas, and tend to extend their tenure with the organisation.

As well it says funders gain a deeper perspective on community needs from the feedback, networking, and innovative ideas that sabbatical alumni bring.

There are a number of other advantageous outcomes from the research:

  • In preparing for the ED’s absence, staff members quickly learn new skills and take on new responsibilities. As a result, the capacity of the second tier of leadership is enhanced, and upon the ED’s return, he or she often delegates more responsibilities and decision making to these individuals.
  • A Not for Profit is also then more likely to begin focusing on cultivating and protecting its human resources—the most important resources it has.
  • A sabbatical can act as a dry run for a future leadership transition. The experience can clarify what the ED’s responsibilities actually are—important information when looking for a successor. And interims can decide if the ED’s job is really what they want.
  • Sixty percent of survey respondents said their board of directors is more effective as a result of the planning and learning that surrounded their sabbatical process.
  • For a modest investment, foundations receive important returns from sabbatical programs such as building trusting relationships with leaders and gaining deeper perspective on community needs or receiving feedback regarding the foundation’s impact on the community.

Download the 21-page Monograph:
Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector

Download the full 67-page report: "Creative Disruption" Sabbatical Report

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