Compensation is often cited as the number one reason an employee leaves his or her job. A close second: lack of development opportunities. In fact, The Bridgespan Group’s 2015 survey of 438 nonprofit C-suite executives revealed that 57 percent attributed their retention challenges partially to compensation, but the lack of development and growth wasn’t far behind, with half of the respondents noting this as a key reason for employee departures.

While compensation challenges are often difficult to overcome, nonprofits can support the development of their staff at little or no cost. Bridgespan has worked with hundreds of organizations to help improve their talent development approaches. In that time, we've found that the key to low-cost, effective development is to get intentional about what competencies are most important to the organization’s future success and then to work with emerging leaders to craft tailored development plans, rooted in the work they’re already doing, to help them build those competencies over time.

A number of situations can trigger a look at your internal talent and your organization's future needs. “Don’t go through the effort of creating a development plan for the sake of development,” Conway said. “Look ahead at your strategy over the next three to five years and determine what competencies and skills you need to deliver on your strategy.”

Regardless of the reason, building an organization’s leadership development program requires the buy-in of your nonprofit’s senior leaders. Senior leaders are best positioned to drive talent development throughout the entire organization and establish it as a core part of your organization's strategy, no matter how demanding the daily tasks may seem.

Competencies fall into two categories: core competencies that everybody in the organization needs to build in order to do their work, and leadership competencies to enable current and future leaders to run the organization. In studying the research on the topic and by surveying their organizations, all three leaders identified that a main source of staff frustration was lack of clarity about what was expected of them in their development trajectories.The message was clear: competencies should be written down, revised with staff feedback, and communicated to everyone in the organization.

Read the full article about building future leaders at The Bridgespan Group.