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
- Emotional intelligence
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…
- Evaluate how others feel
- Relate to others
- Control your own emotions
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
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…
- Hire people who demonstrate the same basic values and desire to help
- Determine each team member’s strengths and weaknesses
- Put each team member in a position where they’ll thrive
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.
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!