Lonely at the Top and Bottom

How Nonprofit Leaders Manage their Loneliness
and the Loneliness of their Staff, Volunteers,
Donors and Board Members

Have you ever asked yourself these two questions: “Do I feel lonely sometimes in my organizational work?” and “Why?” As research from CSL's President Dr. Anthony Silard and Sarah Wright of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand has found, nonprofit leaders and their direct reports often feel lonely due to the stifling of three critical human motives.

On both sides of the Atlantic, loneliness has become a complex, ubiquitous problem. In the U.S., a recent Cigna survey of 20,000 Americans found that over 3 in 5 Americans are lonely, which has raised the decibels on siren calls of a “national loneliness epidemic.” In this survey, over 60 percent of Americans acknowledged that they feel isolated from others and that their relationships are sometimes or always not meaningful.

The “epidemic” designation has also been used in the UK, where former Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a Minister for Loneliness in 2018. May reached this decision on the heels of two studies that found that 9 million UK citizens are often or always lonely and British children spend less time outside than prison inmates. As loneliness is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, nonprofit organizations that reduce it—by fulfilling the three distinct motives CSL will share with you in this session—will become in higher demand. You will learn about how lonely people act differently than people who are not lonely, and how these differences can derail healthy organizational functioning.

We will also explore the determinants of leadership loneliness and how it differs from follower loneliness. Finally, you will develop some strategies to reduce both your loneliness and the loneliness of your staff, volunteers, board members and donors. Be warned: you may never look at people management or fundraising the same.

Session Learning Objectives

  • Participants will be able to:
  • 1 Distinguish loneliness as a subordinate emotion and the “re-affiliation motive” that enables organizational members to reduce it.
  • 2 Identify the three root causes of loneliness in nonprofit organizations.
  • 3 Identify determinants of leader loneliness and design strategies to assuage their own loneliness and that of their team members in nonprofit organizations.
  • 4 Describe the intrapersonal and organizational outcomes associated with loneliness in nonprofit organizations.
  • 5 Understand the role of social support in alleviating loneliness for staff, volunteers, board members and donors.

Contact CSL if you would like us to help you customize
a leadership conference for your organization.