Many nonprofits start as grassroots organizations. A few people see a need, come together to fill that need, and eventually, an organization builds up around that founding group. Some nonprofits are launched by a single committed philanthropist, some are spin-offs of other organizations, and some are built by a team of people who share a common vision for their community.
No matter how a nonprofit is launched, however, one thing always holds true: in order to be an effective, thriving, impactful organization, every nonprofit needs great leaders at the helm. Nonprofit leadership matters. From the board, to the Executive Director, to the Development Director and other department heads, if you want your organization to be effective, you need to focus on leadership.
In working with hundreds of organizations, I have found that there are 4 keys to great nonprofit leadership. In the best nonprofits, these qualities are found at all levels of leadership, from the board down to the directors of individual programs:
#1 – Be a Nonprofit Entrepreneur
The single biggest factor for great nonprofit leadership is finding leaders who are also entrepreneurs. This doesn’t necessarily mean finding people who have launched and run businesses. Anyone, at any level of a nonprofit, can think and act like an entrepreneur, even if they have never worked in a for-profit business.
What is an entrepreneur? An entrepreneur is someone who sets ambitious goals, develops a plan for reaching those goals, and takes responsibility for the success (or failure) of those plans. Simply put, an entrepreneur is someone who gets stuff done… someone who makes big plans and then inspires those around them to carry out those plans. Someone who carries the load and make sure that goals are met.
The best nonprofit leaders I have ever worked with were nonprofit entrepreneurs.
#2 – Think Big
Great nonprofit leaders dream big. They’re always thinking, “Our nonprofit does great work, but we can do more!” Effective leaders cast a big vision for their organizations and departments. I like to say that strong nonprofit leaders are ambitious enough that it makes those around them just a little bit nervous… your team should feel like your plan is doable, but only if everyone comes together and works really hard towards your common goal.
Every leader at your non-profit, at every level, can think bigger about your work.
#3 – Believe in the Power of Fundraising
Far too often, non-profit leaders who are not fundraisers discount the power of fundraising. They think of development as secondary, or as a “necessary evil” that must be handled before you can get down to the real work. This is a huge mistake. If you want to have a thriving organization, your nonprofit leadership must believe in the power of fundraising.
Fundraising makes everything you do at your nonprofit possible. Without fundraising, you would have no programs, no office, and no staff. You wouldn’t be able to carry out your vision or mission. Because fundraising is so important for your organization, your nonprofit leadership needs to build a culture of philanthropy where the development program is valued and where fundraising is a priority for everyone on your team.
#4 – Be Strategic
Strong leaders think strategically and implement tactically. This means that they develop plans with the big picture in mind, but then implement those plans in bite-sized modules that are easy for their teams to understand and act on.
The general rule of thumb for good nonprofit leadership is that your organization should spend 5% of its time planning and 95% of its time doing. How you do each of those things is important. Good leaders understand where their nonprofit is going and write out plans (such as strategic plans and fundraising plans) to get there on time and on budget. But the planning process shouldn’t take forever. Once the plans are written, great leaders motivate their teams to work hard implementing those plans in a rational, systematic fashion.
Great Nonprofit Leadership Matters
Leadership matters for your nonprofit at every level. While some people are born leaders, the good news is that leadership can be learned. Most people at your nonprofit can become better leaders by simply focusing on the four keys noted above. Your nonprofit leadership can make all the difference for your organization. This year, focus on building strong leaders that help drive your nonprofit forward, and that inspire those around them to do the same.
Photo Credit: Chemisier