The traditional charity sector is under threat due to a number of socioeconomic factors (Cordery, Smith & Berger. Public Money Manage. 2017; 37(3):189–196) further complicated by the pandemic (NCVO, 2021). It must assert itself in a sustainable manner to survive and thrive (MacMillan & McLaren. 2012). Harrison, Murray and Comforth (2013) posit that leadership and organisational innovation are key to supporting such transformation.
Hodges and Howieson (Eur Manage J. 2017; 35: 69–77) note a sector-specific leadership model is required to address the changing context of the third sector. Seeking to contribute to such framework, this research innovates by linking four core themes, i.e., Purpose, Innovation and learning, Authentic Leadership and Governance in an inter-generational study in the sector. The overarching aim is to understand whether amplifying Purpose can provide the key to unlocking an innovative, well governed sector that attracts and retains the talent necessary to continue to meet the needs of its stakeholders in a sustainable manner. With Millennials transitioning into leadership roles (Deloitte, 2018), this study also seeks to explore their unique generational perspectives to inform such a model, addressing a significant gap in the literature on the sector that has hitherto focused on the role of Millennials as volunteers and charitable donors.
Informed by the insights of 20 Millennial and Generation X leaders in the sector, the findings highlight interlinkages between all four themes and a further theme of Values is revealed. Together, these underpin Purpose-led leadership, considered vital to the sustainability of the sector. Authentic, purpose-led leadership particularly resonates with Millennials who have a strong social conscience and see the charity ‘brand’ as an extension of their personal brand and value set. This could provide competitive advantage over the for-profit sector in terms of attracting and retaining Millennial talent. Innovations to create Purpose-led Governance are suggested to improve stakeholder engagement and inclusivity. A bespoke Purpose-led model that encapsulates emergent findings is proposed to support sector sustainability.
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