The Right Stuff That Makes a Nonprofit Executive Successful
Due to a recent ice and snow storm that knocked out my cable television, I decided to watch a favorite old DVD. That DVD was a movie titled, “The Right Stuff.” “The Right Stuff” was adapted from Tom Wolfe’s best-selling 1979 book of the same name about the Navy, Marine and Air Force test pilots who were involved in aeronautical research at Edwards Air Force Base, as well as the Mercury Seven, the seven military pilots who were selected to be astronauts for Project Mercury, the manned spaceflight by the U.S.
Retired General Chuck Yeager, from my home state of West Virginia, is featured in this film. On Oct. 14, 1947, his X-1 jet plane broke the sound barrier for the first time. He and his fellow pilots had the right stuff to move the U.S. into the Space Age. This film won four Academy Awards.
The film made me think about the attributes, or the right stuff, needed by nonprofit executives to be successful.
According to the article, “12 Attributes of Great Nonprofit Leaders,” no leader has the following attributes, but they are something to aspire as nonprofit leaders.
These attributes are:
- Passion for the organization’s mission
- Ability to accept and motivate others
- They are “servant leaders”
- Deals well with conflict;
- Think strategically, but implement tactically
- Financial acumen
- Fundraising skills
- Ability to listen
- Sound judgment
The author of the article, “Profiling the NonProfit Leader of Tomorrow,” conducted research to identify the type of leader nonprofit organizations will need in the future. The new manager-leader model for nonprofit leadership delineates 15 must-have attributes.
These attributes are:
- Strategic thinker
- Collaborative decision-maker
- Entrepreneurial achiever
- Effective communicator
- Change leader
- Inspiring motivator
- High integrity
- Interpersonal sensitivity
- Passionate about the mission
- Financial acumen
- Deep sector-specific knowledge
- Understanding and valuing diversity.
Based upon my experience, attributes needed for success as a nonprofit executive include being flexible and nimble; financial acumen; knowledge of how to maximize boards and volunteers; having the education and knowledge to work with various administrations; being a change agent; ability to understand and learn from best of class examples; being relationship oriented; having a deep understanding of the fundraising process; ability to recruit, train and motivate staff; ability to learn every aspect of a nonprofit organization; being passionate for the mission; being honest and ethical; leading by example; and striving to be a super generalist.
If you intend to make a career in the nonprofit sector, seek to constantly have the right stuff. Also, be aware that “the right stuff” constantly changes and you must be proactive instead of being reactive. The dynamics of the nonprofit sector continue to evolve internally and externally in your world. Seek to be continually prepared and proactive. The demands and expectations of the nonprofit executive continue to increase. The future nonprofit executive must understand the aspects of overlap between the government, business and nonprofit sectors and how to take advantage of this new multi-sector blended reality. Success may be defined differently over time, but will always include some aspect of time, talent and treasure. Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have “the right stuff” for long-term success in this profession.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, educator and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 10 years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 26 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.