I’ve blogged many times about the effective leadership skills required to lead a business forward. For today’s post, I’d like to take that concept in a different direction: What are some of the effective leadership skills needed for success in a nonprofit organization?
There’s certainly some overlap. Whether your organization is in it to generate revenues or to raise awareness for a cause, it’s important that you exhibit an ability to motivate team members, hold your people accountable, and provide a greater sense of mission.
At the same time, I think there are some ways in which nonprofit leadership needs differ from those of for-profit companies. So, let’s look at some of the hallmarks of effective nonprofit leadership.
Effective Leadership Skills in a Nonprofit Setting
One of the most significant leadership skills is planning. You need to be able to provide your team members with some sense of what’s coming… tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. And while you obviously can’t predict the future, you can set long- and short-term goals, then map out a basic path for achieving those goals. Strategic planning helps your team members (and donors) see that there’s a way forward for your mission or cause.
2) Sharing a vision.
To put it in really concrete terms, I think the leader of a nonprofit organization has to be good at public speaking. That’s because a big part of your job is going to be spreading the word, encouraging advocacy, and getting people to care about your mission. That requires you to know how to clearly and concisely articulate a vision: What is your nonprofit about? Why do you care? Why should other people care?
3) Enlisting help.
Recruiting volunteers (or part-time staffers) is much more challenging than hiring employees at a for-profit business. That’s because you don’t always have a lot to offer them, save for the opportunity to do meaningful work and be part of a great team. One of the key effective leadership skills for a nonprofit manager or founder is to know how to bring other people on board, united beside you in pursuit of a shared mission.
4) Relationship building.
How will you get people to support your cause? How will you encourage them to donate their time, talents, or resources? The short answer is, through relationships. Get to know people. Earn their trust and their respect. Position yourself where they’ll answer the phone and give you a yes when you call them up for something… or better yet, position yourself where you don’t even have to ask! Relationship building is absolutely critical for anyone providing leadership to a nonprofit organization.
5) Financial acumen.
Just because you’re running a nonprofit group, that doesn’t mean you can overlook basic financial solvency and viability. One of the core leadership skills is crunching numbers, projecting future needs, and ensuring you’re using donated resources as judiciously as possible. Stretch those dollars as far as you can, making the greatest possible impact on behalf of your chosen cause. Financial acumen is essential for any nonprofit leader.
6) Time management.
Most nonprofit leaders have to wear a lot of hats. Fundraiser. Administrator. Team leader. Public relations person. Event coordinator. Donor relations manager. You’ve got to be closely involved with all aspects of the organization, and at times, that may mean you feel stretched too thin. That’s what makes it so consequential that you know how to use your time as effectively as possible. And closely related to this is delegation: Know how to make your time count, and also when you need to enlist someone else to clear some space within your schedule.
7) Motivating your people.
Are you good at motivating others? You’ll need to be a source of inspiration not only to team members and volunteers, but also to those who pitch in to support your cause, or who show up to your events. Be able to paint a clear sense of what you’re trying to achieve, and why it matters. And, be able to convince other people to accompany you on the journey, even as it winds through difficult seasons or hard times.
8) Practicing self-care.
Pouring so much of your time, energy, and emotional life into a cause or mission can be truly tiring. If you’re not careful, it can lead you into discouragement, stress, or burnout. It’s imperative that, as you pursue a mission, you also safeguard your own mental health. Know how to give yourself some rest; how to eat right; how to manage stress; and how to show yourself forgiveness when things don’t go as planned.
9) Crisis management.
Finally, I think crisis management is one of the most significant, effective leadership skills in the nonprofit setting. Things will go wrong, sooner or later: A donor will back out, or an event won’t go as well as you’d hoped. Your team and donors will look to you to lead them through it, and it’s important that you know how to remain level-headed as you correct your course.
These are just a few of the leadership skills that I’d emphasize for anyone looking to found or manage a nonprofit entity.