Equipping nonprofits to advance social change


Tools in this Section:

While younger generations are seeking new models of how to lead that do not concentrate authority and responsibility in one top person, older generations want to adjust their leadership roles to look beyond their comfort zone of how organizations have operated to date. The report in this section provides background and ideas on the types of practices that push decision-making down and build leadership at all levels.

The next section of Leadership Tools will address leadership transitions and what every generation can do to prepare for them as a consistent part of leadership practice.


One question that younger generations often ask is whether there are new models of how to run and lead organizations that do not concentrate authority and responsibility in one top person. These models exist, but they are often unrecognized or embedded within traditional-looking hierarchies.

Over the past several years, Building Movement Project has started to identify and document these models. Innovation is more likely in smaller organizations where experimental structures are often easier to put into operation because bureaucracy and culture can be less entrenched or easier to adapt when fewer people are involved. In larger organizations (i.e. more than 10 staff members), alternative models are more difficult to find, and in some cases are strongly linked to one leader rather than any lasting structural practice.

There are many ways to structure an organization, from models in which the top level of executive leadership is shared internally by two or more people (for example, a co-directorship) to models in which there is one person in the executive role, but decision-making is consistently and methodically pushed down to other levels in the organization (for example, strong program directors). Each model has similar elements and they are often combined in some way (for example, a project-based structure), but most importantly, they are adapted to the needs of each organization in order to increase impact and responsiveness.

leadership structures and practices