Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector Edit Title

The stresses and demands of leadership make intellectual, emotional, creative, and even physical burnout all too common among nonprofit executives. 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, the idea of granting an executive a sabbatical rarely comes up for consideration. Common assumptions 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 organization keep proposals for sabbaticals well off the table. The typical refrain from a nonprofit leader: “I could never go to my board with this...”

We now have evidence that these concerns are unfounded. In fact, EDs who go on sabbatical are more likely either to remain in their positions or extend their tenure, not cut it short. And rather than causing chaos, disruptions in an organization’s day-to-day affairs may be beneficial. Perhaps most importantly, a sabbatical can be a relatively inexpensive but highly productive capacity-building tool that yields measurable results. To explore these results, five philanthropic organizations that provide sabbaticals to nonprofit leaders commissioned this study. What it reveals is both surprising and hopeful.

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