How to Be a Nonprofit Leader in the Digital Age
The start of another year is a clean slate and a time when we can make a fresh start. Many of us are ready, because it's a time of rebuilding. Let's face it: Our communities are hurting, and there's a lot of pain. Still, nonprofits play a critical role in supporting the needs of the nation's families.
If you're a nonprofit leader or want to be one, let's consider lessons from the past, especially the last year, because they help inform our near future. Let's take a look at some of the things we experienced, which has helped our leadership evolve:
- Remote working. Last year, many businesses and nonprofits transitioned to remote working or some variation. While some corporations are transitioning to remote working indefinitely, that's not a sustainable reality for many small businesses or nonprofits. However, remote working isn't going away, even if it's for hybrid situations to accommodate flexible work options for teams.
- Data information. Another element that's become essential is data. In the past, experience dictated what leaders should do. However, opinions, gut instincts and even experience don't serve leaders well in the digital world. Everything has to get measured, and that's shifted leadership. Thriving organizations rely on unbiased data measurement.
- Tech learning. In the past year, it seemed as if the entire world went digital. Many of us experienced calls with our senior grandparents or even great grandparents on Zoom or other video conferencing and messaging platforms. Technology requires nonprofit leaders to create a space where learning is part of the culture.
Becoming a Leader in the Digital World
Last year gave nonprofit leadership a big jolt. All of a sudden, nonprofit leaders had to manage situations they had not before dealt with. For example, they had to shift to remote working because of stay-at-home orders. They moved their operations into a world immersed in technology. In other instances, they had more strains on their fundraising activities and had to get creative with unique fundraising ideas.
Moreover, their teams had to develop new skills to navigate working almost entirely with technology. All the while, the uncertain environment created lots of sleepless nights for nonprofit leaders while the demands on their nonprofits only grew because of unemployment and economic needs.
So, how does a nonprofit leader move forward after so much change? The following are tips and ideas to help you position your nonprofit for success in the digital world:
- Introduce technology. As a leader, it's your job to see the vision and the future. As we know, the future involves technology. And that means you have to integrate artificial intelligence and technology into your teams in an AI/human partnership. Be ready for people to be resistant to change. However, the reality is that AI has the power to expand your abilities vastly.
- Support emotional intelligence. Because of the massive shifts occurring in how and where we work, emotional intelligence is a skill you want to see in your team members. For instance, the people who can better handle hybrid work teams understand how to gauge and control their emotions and understand others' needs for decision-making and problem-solving.
- Rely on data. There are many excellent tools that your nonprofit could use to ensure that you measure performance. Of course, many of them increasingly include AI, because it allows you to scale and get more insightful information (e.g., donor screenings). As a leader, you need to use all of the resources at your disposal. So create a culture within your organization that relies on the black and white, concrete realities of numbers — not only instincts and opinions.
- Empower your teams. As leaders, we all know that empowering your team is a good idea. But how can you do it? One of the ways we do it with our team is to ask for innovative ideas. Everything is always on the table, and nothing is a silly or a bad idea. Do we do everything? No. But by allowing people to express their thoughts, it empowers the team to keep innovating and creating.
- Promote creativity and innovative thinking. Finally, and I can't stress this enough, you want to have creative, expansive and innovative thinkers on your team. You want positive people who see challenges as opportunities. However, that type of culture starts at the top. As a leader, you want to allow your team members to think, test, pilot and move your organization forward. Even strategic failures are excellent learning opportunities.
None of us know what lies ahead this year. Hopefully, things will unfold in a more positive direction for our nation. However, we know for sure that uncertainty and change are part of any organization's operational process. I firmly believe that we could all come together with the right mindset and perspective, and do more and better for our communities no matter what happens. Nonprofits have a significant role in our nation, and we need great leaders to see the future — and the present — to lead the change for the impact the public wants to see in the philanthropic sector.
Editor's Note: This "Rethink: Social Good" column was originally published in the January/February 2021 print edition of NonProfit PRO. Click here to subscribe.
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.