Do You Have the Right Stuff To Be a Nonprofit Leader?
Many of us choose to have a career in the nonprofit sector. In addition to changing nonprofit jobs and focus areas over time, we aspire to be nonprofit leaders over time. This process can take a variety of forms such as training, self-study, self-awareness, best of class reviews, mentor-mentee relationships and understanding what skills, attributes and qualities are inherent in a nonprofit leader. If you aspire to be a nonprofit leader, you need a strong behavioral tool kit to thrive.
In effect, an aspiring nonprofit professional must have the right stuff to lead. The concept of the right stuff was the basis of a 1983 epic historical drama film of the same name. It was based on a 1979 book written by Tom Wolfe. It is about seven military pilots who were selected to be the first astronauts for Project Mercury. It showed the selection process, orientation, training and emphasized the attributes of each astronaut that made them worthy of being selected for this historical program. In parallel fashion, successful nonprofit leaders must have inherent characteristics plus training to assume greater responsibility over time.
A nonprofit executive director has key responsibilities in their daily jobs. These functions are leadership of operations, board of director development and oversight, public and community relations oversight, fiscal management acumen, liaison activities between internal and external stakeholders, technological knowledge of systems, organizational development, legal compliance, and oversight.
The impact of a nonprofit leader is profound and having the ability to manage several complex issues at once is expected. The nonprofit leader needs to quickly determine priorities and if the strategic and operational plans are functioning properly. By understanding what the overall job entails, the nonprofit professional is better able to lead in a positive way.
If you desire and aspire to higher nonprofit leadership roles, evaluate your perceived qualities with the qualities needed in organizational leadership. For example, besides having the vision, strategy, daily oversight and progressive innovation, an executive director must drive these five focus areas: strategic thinking, influence that inspires trust and confidence, self-presentation in mannerism, dress and style, experience and knowledge commanding respect, plus effective management that shows delegation, mentoring and coaching skills.
Joan Garry believes leadership attributes at times are more crucial than having certain skills in hiring nonprofit executive directors. She also feels components that make excellent executive directors are authenticity, conviction, joy, humor and fearlessness. Leaders must inspire trust and moral values. They need to have respect for people and fairness in treatment of subordinates. Their work needs to be approached with joy and promotion of a feeling that their work matters and is effective. Tough decisions need to be made and doing what is right is important. The organization comes first, and leaders must represent the organization in the highest manner possible.
Y Scouts executive search firm researched key attributes of exceptional nonprofit executive directors and outlined these nine attributes:
- Relentless learner
- Focus on long-term results
- Productivity driver
- Inspire others
- Community presence
- Relentless recruiter
Executive directors and nonprofit leaders are the keystone for the short- and long-term success of any nonprofit organization. The leader must be effective to many constituencies, including the board, staff and community they serve. They must possess hard and soft skills plus have proficiency as an excellent communicator, fundraise through relationship building, seek board excellence in a variety of ways, have the vision to put the mission into a long-term view, possess technology sophistication for future growth, ability to attract the best staff possible, and lead — not just manage. Leaders must practice honing key skills and improve areas of weakness. They need to aspire for constant improvement in all aspects of their job.
Think about where you are in your nonprofit career. Are you satisfied with the status quo? Just because you work for an organization does not mean you will automatically be selected for a top leadership position in the future. Take nothing for granted. Strive to obtain the “right stuff” needed to position you as a candidate of choice.
When an opening for a leadership position occurs, make sure you have done everything possible to stand out from the large pack of applicants. Everything you do will have to be earned. Strive for continuous improvement whether you are in nonprofit career year No. 1 or No. 35. Do you have the right stuff to be a nonprofit leader? Look in the mirror, answer this question, and do something about it today!
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.