Do You Demonstrate These Competencies as a Nonprofit Leader?
It’s easy to dismiss the idea that leadership doesn’t matter. Someway, somehow, things will just turn out the way they’re supposed to happen. However, leadership — particularly high-quality leadership — matters now more than ever for the nonprofit sector. To avoid failing, executive directors and other nonprofit leaders have to make decisions, such as:
- How to integrate technology into their nonprofits to remain competitive.
- Changing norms and workers who are much more open to challenging so-called conventional wisdom.
- A push in the sector, rightly, to diversify teams and board leaders.
- Climate change issues, which affect every person on the planet, including every nonprofit.
- Social media, which allows for easier brand awareness, but also comes with a darker side, making it essential to ensure you protect your brand.
These are just some of the issues that nonprofit leaders face every day when they show up to work. Never have leaders faced a continuing onslaught of issues that requires they remain agile and open to change. The very nature of leadership continues to evolve, and nonprofit leaders have to step up and develop core competencies.
If you're a student of leadership, you'll find that many thought leaders have distilled qualities that leaders must possess. For instance, they include things such as being a curious learner who possesses excellent interpersonal, problem solving and skills for resilience.
However, nonprofit leaders need also to possess attributes specific to the sector. With so much happening at once, changing the landscape on a near-daily basis, it's vital for nonprofit leaders also to have these five competencies.
1. Understanding of Finance and Fundraising
Unfortunately, many nonprofits operate with low margins from their fundraising. Moreover, a culture of lack seems to permeate the sector. So, nonprofit executive directors that take their organizations to growth areas understand that they have to know the metrics related to fundraising and finance.
In other words, by being comfortable in asking tough questions of their fundraisers and financial officers, they know they can make the necessary decisions to compete. The competition will only increase as nonprofits lean into artificial intelligence (doing more than humans could ever do) and more for-profits enter the social good space.
2. Commitment to the Broader Community
Sometimes, leaders view their community as donors, work teams and those who support or somehow engage with their cause. However, nonprofit leaders need to understand and want to engage in their broader community. Meaning, they have to get familiar with local politicians and community leaders.
By engaging meaningfully with the broader community, leaders open themselves and their organizations up to opportunities. For instance, leaders could surface strategic options that mutually maximize organizations by engaging with other nonprofit leaders.
3. Deep Knowledge About Programs and Mission-Related Issues
Hand-in-hand with the money are the programs. While the pandemic has caused countries to increase protectionist ideas, the reality is that we’re in a globalized world. Social media and technology see to it. Therefore, we can’t think that what happens someplace else doesn’t affect us (e.g., climate change and sustainability).
That means that nonprofit leaders have to immerse themselves as thought leaders in the matters related to their mission. Moreover, they need to know how it relates to the sustainability goals of the UN, which is major donors want to see addressed. Therefore, it's essential to understand the local aspects of your work and how it connects in the broader context of our country and the world.
4. Understand How to Manage Their Boards
Nonprofit boards have been a topic of discussion for probably as long as there have been modern nonprofits. However, now more than ever, nonprofit executive directors have to know how to manage their boards. For example, it's not acceptable to allow boards to get into the day-to-day management of a nonprofit.
Unfortunately, many nonprofits should consider changing up and recruiting new people to their boards. Still, nonprofit leaders need to understand how to manage their boards. They need to communicate the vision, challenges and opportunities straightforwardly and confidently. And they have to know how to ensure that their board remains a positive, productive and supportive group.
5. Leadership Confidence
Finally, nonprofit leaders must engender confidence. It’s crucial to the success of any organization. The last pandemic was in 1918. So, during 2020, there wasn't a single business or nonprofit leader in the entire world who had all the answers as we seemed to tumble into an unknown abyss.
That said, it was essential to demonstrate confidence, even when those moments arrived for humbleness, because leaders didn't have every answer. In a dynamic world, leaders need to show confidence in their thinking and communications with others—even when they don't have all the answers.
At the end of the day, people always seek leaders. That’s who they want to follow. I've said it in the past; most people know it when they see leadership. If you want your organization to be at its best, leadership is an area that should be one of continual growth and development for you.
Wayne Elsey is the founder and CEO of Elsey Enterprises. Among his various independent brands, he is also the founder and CEO of Funds2Orgs, a social enterprise that helps nonprofits, schools, churches, civic groups, individuals and others raise funds, while helping to support micro-enterprise (small business) opportunities in developing nations and the environment.
You can learn more about Wayne and obtain free resources, including his books on his blog, Not Your Father’s Charity.