A Great Nonprofit Leader Needs to Be Genuine and Transparent
One lasting and successful quality of a nonprofit leader—I believe any leader—is being genuine, transparent and having a strong moral compass. Being genuine means being authentic and real. What you see is what you get. This is a nonprofit leader who doesn’t have a public persona, and then one that his or her staff and family must deal with.
I have been very fortunate to have genuine pastors who continually challenge me to be a better person. They don’t put on a pretense or show when preaching. When I visit with them individually, I am having a conversation with the same leader I saw preaching before a crowd.
Recently, we deferred pursing an ongoing client relationship. There had been many warning signs during the study—the nonprofit leader was largely disengaged and couldn’t move beyond his past, cookie-cutter campaign experiences, being the foremost. However, when he berated a server at a restaurant for a very minor error—an incident I would not have even considered an error—I had a window into his genuine character and other pieces of our experience became clearer.
A friend recently retired from work in advancement. When he shared his resignation with the president, the president apologized for treating my friend’s boss so badly. The president is a leader who had a public persona, and then obviously behaved differently in private so much so that he felt compelled to make this confession. The board and donors saw the public persona. However, that did not align with the private persona that the staff dealt with.
My experience serving scores and scores of nonprofit organizations is that leaders who are not genuine—or are incongruent—will eventually implode or will leave a mess for their successor. A major responsibility, I believe, of a board is to ensure that the nonprofit leader of the organization is genuine. It is not always easy.
This genuine nature dovetails with a strong morale compass. In the nonprofit arena, it means that a leader is focused on the mission of the organization and its success. Not on their ego or financial gain. And that what they say is accurate and not misleading.
No nonprofit is perfect, and none of us are perfect. There are times when a nonprofit leader must be transparent to staff, the board and donors about what is happening. This doe not mean sharing every mistake, but it means key leaders and investors need to know when something major is having an impact on the organization. I find when you are transparent, genuine and ethical, folks rally behind you to create a positive solution.
So, whether you are a fundraising professional, CEO or other leader in the nonprofit area, seek to be genuine and transparent. If you serve on a board, be watchful of the character of your CEO. And as you choose what organizations to serve as either a staff member, volunteer or board member, select those with leadership that is genuine, transparent and has a strong morale compass.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.