What Today’s Nonprofit Needs in a Leader
Leadership is a topic that has caused thought leaders to write countless books and articles. If you happen to be a life-long student of leadership, then the chances are that you know about transformational leadership and servant leadership.
Nevertheless, whatever your leadership style, being a nonprofit leader in today's world necessitates particular skills and qualities to ensure success. Today's nonprofit leaders can no longer rely on a fixed set of circumstances, which means the world changes — sometimes dramatically — from day to day.
The pandemic caused seismic shifts in how nonprofits operate. But that's not all — even donors pulled the carpet out from under grantees in response to changing circumstances and visions within organizations. For example, recently, grantees of the Open Society Foundation were surprised by restructuring within the organization. What it meant for many nonprofits was the end of funding from a core funder. And this happened during the pandemic’s time of great uncertainty and the resulting impact on the economy.
Nonprofit leaders today have to deal with a lot of issues. And that’s not to mention the evolution of technology, which happens now in months as opposed to years. Nor does it consider social media, social activism, and changing laws around donor privacy and protection.
In short, today’s nonprofit leaders have to possess skills and qualities that are much more attuned to what external and internal constituents want and need. So, what are some of the qualities, attributes and skill sets nonprofit leaders must bring to the table in the modern world?
1. Developed Emotional Intelligence
With so many new ideas, sensibilities and uncertainty, including hybrid and remote working and events, high levels of emotional intelligence are at the top of the list for nonprofit leaders. You may think that emotional intelligence is a fixed asset that you either possess or don't.
However, anyone can develop their emotional intelligence with focus and learning. According to an article from Harvard Health Publishing, and based on the work of Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence consists of four pillars. Those elements are self-awareness, social awareness, self-regulation and conflict management skills.
2. Excellent Communication
Today’s nonprofit leaders must know how to communicate excellently well, both as a cohort group for their organization and individually. Even though we live a more significant portion of our lives behind screens, human connection is still the foundation of everything we do.
Nonprofit leaders must know how to communicate transparently, steadily and decisively with their teams, boards, supporters, donors and community. And when moments arise where they don't know the answer, then they need to share how they'll make the journey confidently.
3. Environmental Leadership
You might not see being an environmental and sustainability leader on many lists. However, if we don’t save our planet, and if we all do our part, there’s no life. It’s as simple as that. So, every nonprofit leader now has an obligation to current and future generations to embrace the environment.
Sure, not every nonprofit's mission focuses on the environment. Nevertheless, every nonprofit leader must become an environmental leader. For instance, that means developing metrics within your nonprofit organization geared toward sustainability. It also means designating champions to educate and inform your community about your environmental positioning within the industry.
4. Understanding Leadership Versus Management
Many people are great managers, but few are great leaders. There’s a significant difference between leadership and management. And those differences involve how leaders and managers think, set goals, relate to employees, etc.
For instance, leaders have to focus on people. They set the vision and have a broader view of their organization concerning the community. Managers focus on executing processes, and the best managers look into the organization instead of outwardly as leaders do.
5. How To Adapt
One of the greatest lessons and reminders about my final point came from the pandemic. For generations, leadership development taught that leaders had to be agile and adapt to change. In other words, they needed to be comfortable in being uncomfortable.
The pandemic brought that into stark relief for every leader. And that's not going away. Leaders in the modern world must expect the unexpected at any given moment. Moreover, they have to walk on shifting sand easily and pivot when things change because of social issues, technology, global recession, etc.
Leadership is something that's an essential foundation of a thriving nonprofit organization. It's fundamental to success. We live at a time of fast information and constant change in the modern world. The best leaders are those who not only possess the qualities mentioned earlier. They are curious and understand the need to continually develop and learn how to be — not only a good leader — but a great leader.
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.