7 Qualities and Skills Associated with Great Nonprofit Leadership


Having worked with countless organizations over the years, I’ve seen many people struggle to step into the nonprofit leadership role.  

It can be disheartening for sure, as these are individuals who have committed their lives to making the world a better place.

But having passion for a cause isn’t necessarily the same as possessing the leadership skills required to guide an organization.

Think of it this way: Just because someone is a great player doesn’t mean they’d make a great coach. These are two very different yet equally valuable roles.

To ensure your own organization—the one you’ve poured your heart and soul into—has the proper nonprofit leadership, you need to understand what makes a great leader. And it starts by looking at the following:

General Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence | The Role Each Plays in Nonprofit Leadership

There’s a long-held belief that in order for leaders to be successful, they must have a fairly high level of general intelligence. And it makes sense, doesn’t it?

After all, to run an organization, your knowledge of management and operations must be up to par. Though your heart is in your mission, you still need to get a grasp on things such as resource allocation and hiring practices.

That may require some learning on your part.

But book smarts aren’t everything. In fact, when it comes to nonprofit leadership (or any kind of leadership), many experts believe that emotional intelligence is just as important.

What do I mean by emotional intelligence?

I mean the ability to…

As the head of your organization, you interact with volunteers and donors on a regular basis. And because your organization was built upon a strong desire to serve a cause, emotions can run high.  

The key is to use your emotional intelligence to your advantage.  

If you’re able to remain calm and collected during tough times, deliver your message in a way that resonates with potential donors, and perceive when a member of your team needs help, you’re well on your way to being an effective leader!

Attraction | The Last Piece of the Puzzle

In taking a broad look at the basic components of effective nonprofit leadership, it’s worth highlighting one more thing: attraction.

This isn’t about your appearance. It’s about how you are able to attract others to your cause and exemplify characteristics that others find desirable in a leader.

The best nonprofit leaders bring in donors and volunteers by being transparent, proving themselves competent, and communicating their vision clearly. They demonstrate charisma, energy, and trustworthiness. 

Everyone has such attraction assets within them. It’s just a matter of developing them further.

What Makes a Great Nonprofit Leader | 7 Qualities and Skills You Need

Before diving into some of the essential qualities and skills needed for successful nonprofit leadership, I want to make a brief note.

You may not be a perfect leader right off the bat—and that’s okay!

Like anything else, it takes time to find your footing. What’s important is that you don’t feel discouraged, as it’s your vision and heart to help others that has allowed your organization to get this far.

It’s all about identifying those crucial characteristics of a great leader and taking the necessary steps to apply them.

So, what do you need to work on?

1) Communicating Effectively

One of the most important skills needed in nonprofit leadership is the ability to communicate effectively.

Whether you’re writing a press release or speaking at an event, you need to be clear, concise, and consistent. You must use language that is easy for people to understand so you don’t inadvertently put up barriers.

Moreover, you need to tailor your message to your audience, describing your mission in such a way that they become eager to join you!  

2) Doing a Lot with a Little

Most organizations don’t have unlimited resources, so a valuable skill of nonprofit leadership is being able to do a lot with a little.

This often means coming up with creative yet inexpensive ways of spreading the word. Additionally, it means managing your budget responsibly and always seeking new donation opportunities.

3) Creating a Long-Term Plan

The most effective leaders are those with a vision and a long-term plan. They don’t just know where they want to go; they know how they’re going to get there.  

As the leader of your organization, you need to decide on specific, measurable goals and develop a framework to meet them. This ensures that everyone is on the same page—from your volunteers to your board members. 

4) Identifying the Best People

Team members in circle with hands in.

Another helpful trait in nonprofit leadership is the ability to spot talent and assign jobs to the right people.

Your organization’s mission can only be realized when you have support from dedicated individuals working behind the scenes. That means you need to…

5) Leading by Example

The best leaders are those who guide by their actions, not just their words. They practice what they preach, and their team members appreciate them for it.

As you move forward as the leader of your organization, you need to set a good example for those on your team.

If you want to encourage transparency, you need to be transparent.

If you want to encourage hard work, you need to be hardworking.

 If you want to encourage trust, you need to be trusting.

6) Practicing Good Judgment

A key aspect of effective nonprofit leadership is the ability to practice good judgment. Doing so not only benefits the organization but also inspires confidence.

To remain on the right path toward bringing your vision to life, you need to make informed and sensible decisions. You need to take a step back and look at all the factors to ensure the call you make is the right one.

7) Stepping Up in Times of Crisis

Most leaders have no problem staying in control when things are good, but the best ones are those who step up in times of crisis.

When something goes wrong, you need to react to the situation in a productive way. Instead of allowing yourself to panic or freeze, you need to take a step back, clear your head, and consult those on your team so you can develop an action plan.  

And most importantly, when the fire is put out, you should look at the situation as a learning experience.    

The Takeaway

Great nonprofit leadership is vital to growing your organization and extending your mission far beyond what you could have ever imagined.

That’s why you need to have certain qualities and skills that make you a caring, decisive, and responsible leader—one that your team members are proud to have at the helm.

By developing these assets, you’ll be able to inspire individuals to get involved in your cause. Further, you’ll be a better leader (and a better person) for it!


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Filed Under: Leadership

About John Rodriguez

For more than 25 years, John’s professional career has spanned corporate business, Christian ministries, and church leadership.

He has held prominent positions with Altec Industries, World Harvest Church, Word of Life Church, Joyce Meyer Ministries, and many other organizations dedicated to growing in their sphere of influence, to reach audiences with quality products and positive messages of hope.

Through his dedication to serve and determination to help others, John founded Castañeda Consulting. He shares decades of experience and a wealth of knowledge regarding infrastructure and operational systems. Castañeda Consulting serves businesses, large or small, and non-profit organizations across the country, including Feed The Children Inc., in Oklahoma City and Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas.

John is a true entrepreneur at heart. He owns Castañeda Custom Clothiers, a luxury custom clothing line; Ethos, an Aveda Lifestyle Salon and MedSpa; Culinary Arts Tours, a European tour company; and a financial solutions group.

John resides in St. Louis, Missouri, and enjoys traveling the world in his spare time.