Ep 188: Can A Teen Be Your Next Executive Director? (with Sarah Hernholm)

by Joan Garry

How do we ensure that the next generation of nonprofit leadership is prepared? Sarah Hernholm shares her groundbreaking work with WIT.


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How old is your Executive Director? What is the average age of your board?

Don’t actually answer either of those questions!

So many nonprofit leaders are, well, aging. And more and more are retiring. In fact, research has shown that something like 75% of U.S. nonprofit leaders plan to leave their positions in the next five to ten years. And that research was done about five years ago…

So we have something of a crisis on our hands.

How do we handle this? How do we ensure that the next generation of nonprofit leadership is ready for the enormous task at hand?

Perhaps your next executive director is younger than you think.

My guest on today’s podcast, Sarah Hernholm, founded an organization called WIT, which stands for “Whatever It Takes”. WIT helps tweens and teens develop leadership skills through entrepreneurship. Teens accepted into WIT learn how to design and launch, manage and measure, a social enterprise or project. Over the years teens have launched enterprises that have made a local and national impact. And who knows? Maybe your next executive director is among them. 

Together, we discuss the work Sarah is doing with young folks and she has some advice for how to get the next generation much more involved in our organizations. 

Let’s make sure that our nonprofit leadership pipelines will be strong for generations to come.

Our future depends on it.

About Sarah

Sarah Hernholm is the Founder/President of WIT – Whatever It Takes (WIT) + 360 Self, Inc. She is also the host of the DO WIT podcast. Sarah’s focus is on creating platforms for teens to use their voice, launch businesses, and create sustainable impact in their communities. Sarah champions young entrepreneurs who are committed to innovation and to doing “whatever it takes to make the world a better place.” In addition, she’s a 3x TEDx speaker, and contributor to FORBES and the Today Show.


  • 0:00 – Intro to episode
  • 2:12 – Nonprofits Are Messy Music Intro
  • 2:56 – Bio on Sarah Hernholm
  • 4:16 – Were you settled in as a life of a teacher
  • 6:02 – The story of putting the banner up in the classroom (Whatever it Takes)
  • 11:00 – How did you know there was a bigger thing there?
  • 12:48 – What does the WIT program look like today?
  • 15:44 – How does the WIT program help bring young people’s ideas to live?
  • 17:57 – A few example on 11 tips
  • 21:32 – Discussing success metrics. How do you know this program is successful?
  • 27:02 – How do kids find you? And the general reach of your work
  • 29:00 – Nonprofit Leadership Lab Promo
  • 30:07 – How to engage with young people
  • 44:27 – Should I put a young person on my board?
  • 47:48 – Does WIT have young people on the board?
  • 52:19 – How to find more about WIT
  • 53:31 – Nonprofits Are Messy Music Outro


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