Fear-Based Leadership Won’t Benefit Your Nonprofit
For many who work in the nonprofit sector, just as we see in business, some leaders excel, and others do not. There's a perception that there is worse leadership in the social good sector than the for-profit one. However, I think that could be overblown. Nevertheless, there's a sense that there is more fear-based leadership in the nonprofit industry, and I believe there are several reasons for it.
- Scalability of nonprofits. We know that the vast majority of nonprofits do not grow to scale. Over 20% have budgets of less than $50,000, and another 20.69% earn less than $100,000. The fact that 41.54% of nonprofits remain small infers that many lack strong leadership. By the way, I'm not suggesting this is the sole responsibility of executive directors; it’s also the responsibility board members.
- Nonprofit board leaders. Serving as a nonprofit board member is a privilege. But I've seen it happen often. Smart and sophisticated businesspeople serve on a nonprofit board. However, for some reason, they leave their savvy business mind at the door. I never quite understand it because nonprofits need the expertise and insights that successful business leaders have to offer. This lack of volunteer leadership hurts the nonprofit organization.
Fear-Based Leadership Appears in Various Ways
I think that fear-based leadership manifests itself in the nonprofit industry in two ways: The first is through the fear of vision and goal-setting. That’s why many nonprofits never grow to scale, but if you asked the leadership team, they would say they want to grow and do more. However, it's the fear of making donors angry, for one, if there's any programmatic failure that prevents them from innovating and getting to the destination where they want to go.
Secondly, remarkably in today's world, there are still those managers who think that keeping their teams in fear is the best approach. As you know, just because someone is a manager doesn't mean that they are a leader. When there’s bad management, especially by fear, it doesn’t matter how much excellent marketing and promotion you do for a nonprofit. There is a systemic failure within the organization, which can even get pathological, but always leaves a nonprofit floundering.
Don’t Allow Fear to Impact Your Fundraising
As we all know, times are tough. And for nonprofits and leading social enterprises to succeed, they have to innovate and get everybody on their team on board. We understand that there’s an immense amount of uncertainty, especially around fundraising and donor support. Nonprofits across the country are dealing with a situation they have not faced in their lifetimes. Fundraisers are trying to be sensitive to their donors, which is vital. But many leaders are unsure if they should move forward asking for support. Here's what I say: Yes, you need to raise money.
This is not the time for fear-based leadership in fundraising. In fact, this is the time when you absolutely must move forward and not cut your fundraising budget. Nonprofits and businesses across the nation saw the steep drop in revenue and immediately started cutting budgets and workers. However, you have to go against those instincts of fear, and you have to continue to invest in your donor communications and fundraising. If you cut your budget in marketing and fundraising, you're going to earn less money, creating a self-fulling prophecy.
Board Members and Nonprofit Leaders Have to Step Up
The competition for fundraising dollars is already fierce. The nonprofit groups that donors trust are the ones that will get more fundraising dollars. When times get tough, small-dollar donors retrench, and major donors become more strategic. So it's vital to have your act together. As it relates to the second fear-based leadership, bad management, this is the time to correct any of it in your nonprofit organization.
During this incredible time, nonprofit leaders and their teams have to make the best decisions to stand out. When there is lousy management that exists, innovation does not happen. It just doesn't, and it is during a harsh economic climate like this when your nonprofit has to think creatively about making things better for your mission and community. At a nonprofit, it could mean easing out ineffective board members or even an executive director who has had plenty of opportunities, but is not up to the job at hand.
There’s another reason why you have board members and nonprofit leaders step up their game. Right now, you need team members, donors and champions to be involved in what you're doing. Meaning, you want them to be motivated, and you want everyone pulling in the same direction. When you have fear-based leadership, people know it, and they're not going to give you the thinking and creativity that you need to move things forward. With economists saying that we may be facing depression, our nation, business leaders and the leadership team of your nonprofit need to step up their game.
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.