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Vital Connections On Air Episode 3: The Leadership Gap

We have all received the phone call or had the conversation at the grocery store. One of the community groups in town needs a board member, a volunteer, more people to bring bars.  If you are like me, you say that of course you will do what you can, but as you walk out of the store or hang up the phone all you can think is:  "Isn't there someone else who can help?"  

If you think this is happening more often in your small community, you might be right!  According to Ben Winchester, senior research fellow for University of Minnesota Extension's Center for Community Vitality, we are facing a leadership gap. In his recent analysis, he found that 1 in 16 people must serve as a leader in rural Minnesota counties. Urban and metro areas are also seeing a need for leadership but because of the size of their communities, their leadership demand is more like 1 in 51 people. Ben shares his research on this topic in our new episode of Vital Connections On Air.

This need for leadership is not due only to changing demographics.  According to Ben it is because Minnesota is a leader in the number of non-profits available to meet needs in our communities.  The growth in the number of nonprofits throughout Minnesota leads to more people needed to serve in leadership roles.  Between the years of 2000 and 2010, Minnesota saw a 19.3 percent increase in the number of nonprofits.  This is compared to an 8% increase in population during that same time period.  With this type of nonprofit growth, Ben estimates that we need 1,700 new leaders each year to fill the demand seen across our state.

There are many things communities can do to address the leadership needs they see in their communities.  One of the first things community members can do is engage with newcomers who are moving to their communities.  This does not mean introducing yourself and then abruptly asking them to join the board of the local organization. t means taking time to build a relationship.  Engaging in community work is a personal decision that is encouraged through relationships and connections.  By taking time to visit the new person who moved in down the street, learning about their interests, and connecting them to the right group or person, you build social capital that will strengthen your community.  

You might even open up one night of your overflowing meeting schedule somewhere down the road.

Communities can also facilitate connections among newcomers.  Ben shared in Episode 1: Not Your Grandpa's Rural that the best $150 dollars a community can spend is on a newcomer dinner.  This gathering encourages people who have chosen to join your community to create connections with each other and with the rest of the community  If you create these opportunities, you benefit from meeting newcomers, and they benefit because they learn who else is in their community and begin to build social roots.

Extension has also helped communities address the leadership gap by co-creating community and county-based leadership programs.  There are a variety of types of programs throughout Minnesota. Leadership programs  are led by community members and groups that are committed to helping prepare the next generation of leaders.  These leadership programs build upon Extension’s model that brings the same group of people (i.e., “cohorts) together over multiple months to explore different leadership topics.  The programs are created by a local Design Team. Extension Leadership and Civic Engagement educators design and deliver an educational program that  meets the unique goals and outcomes desired by that community, county, or region.  

Learn more about the unique aspects of the various programs and how to become involved if one is in your area. If you are interested in finding out how to bring leadership development opportunities to your community, contact Holli Arp, Program Leader for Leadership and Civic Engagement, at

Photo Credit: Flickr user pantin5

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