Research & Publications | Research Reports

CompassPoint's “on-the-ground" research methodology, combined with our ability to move quickly to address emerging sector issues, allow us to identify and explore the leadership and management topics that will be useful to nonprofits now. By engaging sector experts and colleagues as partners and advisors on our studies, we further ensure the rigor, currency, and impact of our research.

Below are some of our most recent reports and publications:

  • The newly released study UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising reveals that many nonprofits are stuck in a vicious cycle that threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed. A joint project of CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the report found high levels of turnover and lengthy vacancies in development director positions throughout the sector. More significantly, the study reveals deeper issues that contribute to instability in the development director role, including a lack of basic fundraising systems and inadequate attention to fund development among key board and staff leaders.

    Download the Report.

  • Read CompassPoint CEO, Jeanne Bell’s most recent piece for The Nonprofit Quarterly, An Executive’s Guide to Financial Leadership. It’s a succinct primer on the 8 financial health concepts every nonprofit leader needs to keep top of mind as they work towards sustainability.

  • Every community clinic leader knows of at least one story of a clinic struggling to overcome confusion and disarray when its chief executive was suddenly absent due to unforeseen circumstances like an accident or a health crisis.  The essential risk management practice for avoiding such problems is the creation of an emergency backup for each of a clinic’s top management positions.  The elements of such a plan are described in this paper with examples from Alliance Medical Center in Healdsburg and from Mountain Valley Health Centers in Bieber, California.

    Click her to download the report

  • The mark of the great organization is succession planning.   Organizations that engage in succession planning stay great and don’t slip back.  Jim Collins, “Good to Great”

    Irma Cota, CEO of North County Health Services in northern San Diego County, set out in 2004 to ensure that the NCHS network of clinics would be great and stay great for its clients.  “Securing Its Future” describes the extensive talent development activities that NCHS continues to engage in to build the talent pipeline behind each of its top managers.

    Click here to download the full report.

  • “Departure-Defined Succession Planning” opens with anecdotes from California health clinics that ran into difficulties with their CEO departures.  The paper then describes seven practices that clinics should undertake to avoid transition problems and ensure a smooth hand-off to a well-qualified new leader.  An example of each practice in action is drawn from the experiences of Community Health Clinic Ole in the management of its 2010 transition to a new CEO.

    Click here to dowload the full report.

  • “I am a lifer in the community clinic movement.  I would only leave this job for another one that engages me as fully in the movement as this one does.”   That was the statement of an energetic and long-tenured community clinic CEO in response to a question about what the next phase of her career might look like.  This paper describes the post-CEO jobs that several clinic CEO’s have taken…and how some of them prepared for that new job.  Highlighted is the “partial-retirement” option by which a clinic can retain the skills and wisdom of its retirement-age leader while also promoting a talented manager eager to step up to the top job.

    Click here to download the full report

  • In September 2009, San Francisco District 11 Supervisor John Avalos and the Community Development Division of the Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH) began discussing a planning process that would increase the capacity of Ocean View-Merced Heights-Ingleside (OMI) service providers to collaborate to address and advocate for the OMI’s needs and to further the dialogue between this community and the City of San Francisco. Located in San Francisco’s southwestern-most area, the OMI is one of the most diverse areas in the City and home to approximately 45,000 people (2000 U.S. Census). Yet, the OMI community suffers from a lack of visibility and resources compared to other areas of San Francisco.

    Supervisor Avalos and MOH envisioned a planning process that would 1) contribute to a responsive community-driven vision for the OMI and 2) create a collective under­standing by the City, Supervisor, and the OMI community of the area’s assets, needs, and community priorities in order to make strategic investments. The OMI Service Providers Cohort was created as the main vehicle through which this process would be implemented.

    The three main components of the project were the following:

    1. Planning and capacity building in the OMI in part­nership with community service providers

    2. Comprehensive data gathering by San Francisco State University’s Institute for Civic and Community Engagement for data relevant to District 11

    3. A written report to capture the demographic profile of the OMI community and to document the assets, needs, and priorities of the community

    Through this project, we have learned that a small, coor­dinated investment by the City can create an opportu­nity for a community to maximize its assets.Along with the project report we offer a set of tools to download if you are interested in designing a community planning process.


    Download the report.

    Download the tools.

  • What does it take to integrate cultural competence into the day-to-day operations of a community-based health organization? Once the work is started, how do you move it to the next level and sustain an ongoing process?

    Authors Laurin Mayeno and Steve Lew draw lessons from the Cultural Competence Learning Initiative, a two-year project supporting 11 community nonprofits to develop the plans, structure, and leadership skills to sustainmulticultural organizational development activities. Several tools and templates created as a part of this initiative can be accessed through hyperlinks embedded in this document.

    Download the Report

  • Our third Daring to Lead report in 10 years comes at an extraordinary time to be the executive director of a nonprofit organization. Since our last report in 2006, powerful forces have influenced the requirements of—and the possibilities for—embodying the role well. Executives are daring to lead through a deep recession that resulted for many in fewer resources and increased demand for services, yet executives leading critical social change efforts are experiencing greater opportunity and organizational growth. And we know more about how the sector is experiencing the generational handoff, about what works in developing future leaders, and about which executive and governance practices are most associated with sustainable organizations. This report is organized around three key findings and concludes with corresponding calls to action.

    Download the Report

    Download the three briefs:

    • Leading Through a Recession, which reports on how the recession has amplified pre-existing economic challenges for nonprofits, including inadequate government funding and insufficient cash reserves.
    • Inside the Executive Director Job, which explores how executives spend their time, how they work with staff, how they feel about the core aspects of their role, and the strategies they find most effective for personal development and support.
    • The Board Paradox, which reports that most executives are not spending a significant percentage of their time working with and supporting their boards--even though executive directors who spend more time on their boards report higher satisfaction with board performance.

      Visit the report web site


  • We have heard much about next generation leaders but little about the way their leadership styles are embodied inside organizational walls. What exactly does next generation leadership entail, how are their organizations structured, what practices are in place, what do their boards look like, and how are operations adapted? In this paper, CompassPoint has identified a set of 9 characteristics that we think demonstrate how next generation leaders are transforming their organizations to operate in a fundamentally different way to raise the bar on mission impact.

    Contact: Marla Cornelius and Tim Wolfred

    Download the PDF

    Download the Self Assessment

  • The Coaching and Philanthropy Project was created to assess and advance coaching as a strategy for building effective nonprofit organizations. We’ve conducted an unprecedented deep dive into learning about the nonprofit sector’s support for and use of coaching, as well as the coaching field’s knowledge of and work within the nonprofit sector.

    The Coaching and Philanthropy guides were created as a resource for and about coaching in the nonprofit sector. Each publication is tailored to and contains relevant information for three different audiences – funders, nonprofits, and coaches. Taken together, the three publications add up to a summary of the current state of coaching in the nonprofit sector.

    Download the PDF: An Action Guide for Grantmakers: Executive Summary
    Download the PDF: An Action Guide for Grantmakers: Full Report
    Download the PDF: An Action Guide for Nonprofits
    Download the PDF: An Action Guide for Coaches

  • The study 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 organization. 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 nonprofit leaders.

    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

    Download Appendix B Materials:
    Sabbatical Study: Sabbatical Awardees Survey
    Sabbatical Study: Interim Leader Survey
    Sabbatical Study: Board Member Survey

  • In September 2008, CompassPoint and the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training conducted a study of nonprofits based in communities of color in Los Angeles to learn about their approaches to income generation, their staffing strategies, successes and challenges. This report on people of color led nonprofits underscores the importance of ongoing training that is multicultural and builds multicultural fundraising leadership within communities of color.

    Download the PDF: Opportunities for Nonprofits within Los Angeles Communities of Color

  • The Blue Shield of California Foundation and the Community Clinics Initiative, a joint project of Tides and The California Endowment, engaged a team of consultants from CompassPoint and BTW informing change to examine the leadership and workforce needs of California community clinics field, with the goal of providing a snapshot of the current leadership landscape and implications to stimulate discussion and action among clinic leaders, their nonprofit and for-profit partners, funders and other stakeholders in the community clinics field.

    Three companion reports describe the findings of the 2009 Community Clinic Leadership and Workforce Studies. While the three studies are related, each one takes an in-depth look at a distinct group of staff within community clinics and clinic consortia. The studies and their subject groups are:


    A fourth publication - Community Clinic Leadership in California: The State of the Field & Implications for the Future - highlights key findings from all three studies and considers the implications across the studies.

  • From recent reports, including our own Daring to Lead 2006 study, we know that the sector is facing large-scale executive turnover and has turned its attention to strengthening its leadership pipeline by focusing on the recruitment, retention and development of next generation of leaders. To better understand and address these issues, CompassPoint (in partnership with The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Meyer Foundation and recently surveyed over 5,700 nonprofits. Our findings suggest that there are indicators of strength within the leadership pipeline. Despite these promising indicators, we also found that next generation leaders face significant barriers to pursuing executive positions.

    Download the PDF: Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out

  • This monograph seeks to continue to detoxify the topic of nonprofit succession, looking closely at the tough issues organizations may face when planning for succession. It provides nonprofit boards and executive directors a framework for their own succession planning activities and offers tools and resources, many of which have been used by the leadership consultants who designed the approaches outlined.
    Download the PDF: Building Leaderful Organizations
    [This is the sixth of a six-monograph series on executive transitions and executive transition management, funded in part by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Evelyn and Walter Haas. Jr. Fund. The complete series is available to download here.]

  • This series came about as a result of the desire to promote learning and to strengthen effectiveness of both theorists and practitioners in the field of cultural competence and multicultural organizational development in health care. Produced by CompassPoint and supported by a grant from The California Endowment, these three monographs explore a variety of frameworks for organizational development or capacity building and their implications for practice, taking in a number of issues that arise in real world practice.
    Download the PDFs:

    • Multicultural Organizational Development: A Resource for Health Equity
      This paper discuss the applicability of multicultural organizational development (MCOD) for building the multicultural capacity of health organizations, positing that multicultural capacity and equity are interconnected.
    • Encouraging More Culturally & Linguistically Competent Practices in Mainstream Health Care Organizations
      This paper is written as a survival guide for change agents and systems who intend to advance the cultural and linguistic (C & L) practices of mainstream health organizations.
    • Cultural Competence in Capacity Building
      The National Community Development Institute's paper delves into the definition of culturally –based capacity building, presenting three field experiences in which this framework was applied. CompassPoint’s paper discusses the relationship between improving cultural competency and improving organizational effectiveness. It also describes a capacity building approach to improving cultural competency in an organization where systems issues are dealt with through the lens of multicultural organizational development.
  • The Leadership Development Program for Women Executives in Underserved Communities was inspired by several research studies conducted by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. This Program was funded by the UPS Foundation and evaluated by Harder and Company Community Research.

    Download the PDF

  • Three surprising findings from CompassPoint's new national study on executive directors: a) 30% of executives leave their jobs involuntarily (either fired or forced out); b) Executive directors plan to leave their jobs but will stay active in the nonprofit sector; and c) A key driver of executive burnout is frustration with funders.

    Download PDF

  • This study provides a road map to a merger's expectations, processes, and obstacles.  Special sections depict seven organizations' actual merger experiences, feature sample resolutions and worksheets, and highlight the key roles executive directors play in a merger. Also offers advice on how to close down an organization.

    Download the PDF

  • Eight reforms to make nonprofits more accountable and effective.

    Download the PDF

  • For more than 100 years, United Ways and community foundations have helped shape the landscape of American philanthropy. They champion giving-providing means by which every individual and business can be philanthropic.

    Download the PDF

  • In this report, Community Foundation Silicon Valley and CompassPoint look at the challenges, successes, risks and opportunities faced by the local nonprofit sector. One word emerges—resilience.

    Download the PDF

  • The following monograph describes the benefits and basics of using an interim Executive Director in a leadership transition. It covers the issues that nonprofits in transition should then consider when weighing whether to use an interim ED—either in tandem with a transition consultant or on their own. The case studies in this monograph present stories of nonprofit groups capitalizing on the special growth opportunities that appear between the tenures of permanent leaders.
    Download the PDF: Interim Executive Directors: The Power in the Middle
    [This is the second of a six-monograph series on executive transitions and executive transition management, funded in part by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Evelyn and Walter Haas. Jr. Fund.  The complete series is available to download here.]

  • Concerned over the impact of Proposition 54 - the Classification by Race, Ethnicity, National Origin (CRECNO) Initiative, The San Francisco Foundation commissioned CompassPoint to conduct a statewide study of its potential impact on philanthropy.

    Download the PDF

    A case study was written on how the San Francisco Foundation acted to help defeat Proposition 54, including its commissioning and use of this study. The case study is part of the Public Policy Toolkit of Northern California Grantmakers.

  • CompassPoint Nonprofit Services embarked on a 12-month demonstration project of Executive Coaching with 25 Executive Directors in the San Francisco Bay Area. A longitudinal evaluation by Harder + Company studied these new executive directors who worked one-on-one with executive coaches who helped them navigate both personal life issues and organizational leadership matters.

    Executive Summary
    Full Report

  • This companion study on California's community clinic leadership, commissioned by the California Primary Care Association, used a similar research design to explore these same issues among Medical Directors. Among Medical Directors, the central issue is preventing turnover and developing the managerial skills of doctors who are bridging medicine and management.

    Download the PDF

  • CompassPoint recently completed two studies on California's community clinic leadership. The first, Securing the Safety Net: A Profile of Community Clinic and Health Center Leadership in California, commissioned by the regional and statewide clinic consortia, examines the demographics, career paths, and job challenges of clinic CEOs. Among CEOs the data suggest a need for attention to succession planning as many founders and long-time CEOs approach retirement.

    Download the PDF

  • This study of more than 400 nonprofit organizations quantifies the position vacancy challenge at nonprofits and highlights the characteristics of the problem.

    Download the full PDF

  • While the media reports that the economy is beginning to pick up, the executive directors and development staff who attended CompassPoint's East Bay Funders Fair in February 2002 say that significant cuts in foundation, corporate, and government funding are taking a heavy toll on their 2002 programming.

    Download the PDF

  • This study finds that minority leadership is on the rise in nonprofits of all types and sizes, including mainstream organizations.

    Download the PDF

  • All-volunteer organizations comprise a huge economic force, but few resources exist to help them. This booklet outlines the "Top 10" jobs of the board.

    Download PDF

  • A guide to ASP's, internet services, and online software.

    Download the PDF:The eNonprofit

  • The study is essentially market research, taking ideas for tackling the space problem and putting them to the test with a potential target market of nonprofit leaders. This study is the follows up a study done in th Fall of 2000 that alerted us to the magnitude of the nonprofit space crisis.

    Download the PDF

  • This groundbreaking report includes findings on nonprofit executive career paths, tenure, salaries, and job challenges.

    Download the PDF

  • CompassPoint surveyed local nonprofits to find out how they are responding to today's economic climate.

    Download the PDF

  • Rapidly escalating real estate costs and competition for space has resulted in a crisis of affordability and availability for San Francisco's nonprofits. Concern over the impact of space availability on nonprofits-and therefore on San Francisco residents and neighborhoods-led a group of civic institutions to commission this study and identify strategies for effective response.

    Download the PDF

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