Strong, thriving nonprofits require great leaders. This includes not only the CEO or Executive Director of the organization, but also skilled leaders in all areas, including programs, development, communications, and operations. While leadership comes in many different forms, here are five key traits every nonprofit leader should cultivate in order to be successful:
#1: Focus on Moving Projects Forward
Nonprofits have unique challenges that are different from for-profit businesses. Most nonprofits are under-resourced and under-staffed, and yet they are trying to tackle immense problems to better their communities. For this reason, organizations can often get stuck, spinning their wheels on certain projects while they try to figure out how to fund, staff, and resource programs and campaigns.
As a nonprofit leader, it is up to you to figure out ways to move projects forward. Every day, you need to focus on how your organization can do more good and help more people, even with limited resources. Great nonprofit leaders solve problems and keep projects and programs moving forward.
#2: Make Decisions
Great leaders make decisions. They don’t make decisions rashly – they investigate their options, talk to their team, and think through the issues. But ultimately, they make a decision. Far too many nonprofits get mired down in analysis paralysis. They spend countless hours debating the merits of a program, a fundraising campaign, or a back-office policy. They form committees, make lists, and postpone decisions until they have more time to think about them.
As a nonprofit leader, it is up to you to make decisions for your department, your team, and your organization. Every day, you need to evaluate options and make the right choice so that your nonprofit can move on to other things. Not to worry, if you make the wrong decision, you can always analyze the results, and change course at a later date.
#3: Cast a Vision
Nonprofits exist to do good in the world that otherwise wouldn’t get done. In order to do more good, and to get donors, volunteers, and your community excited about supporting their work, nonprofits need to cast a big vision and then communicate that vision to the world.
Nonprofit leaders are the primary people responsible for casting a big vision for their organizations. There are many different audiences for that vision, including your staff, your board, your donors, your volunteers, your community at large, and those that you serve. Every day, you need to remind your audience about the amazing things your nonprofit is doing, and will do in the future, to help those in need.
#4: Keep Your Door Open
Great leaders don’t close themselves off in their offices. Sure, there are times when leaders need to think, write, or otherwise be alone, but for the most part, strong leaders spend time every day interacting with their team.
As a nonprofit leader, your team will rely on you for guidance, decision-making, and strategic thinking. For that reason, I always advise leaders to keep their doors open as often as possible, and to make sure that team members feel free to come to you for help.
#5: Focus on ROI
Far too few nonprofits are focused on return on investment (ROI) for their programs, fundraising, or operations. Because of this, many organizations work with outdated technology, hold on to unprofitable fundraising events, and resist programmatic change that could have a positive effect on the people they serve.
As a nonprofit leader, it is up to you to think about ROI and to remember the 80/20 principle… the idea that for most things, 20% of your efforts are going to result in 80% of your results. Your team is busy providing services, meeting with donors, and answering the phones. While you may be doing many of the same things, to be a great leader, you also need to spend a part of every day focused squarely on improving ROI for your nonprofit.
Nonprofits become strong, thriving, vital organizations because they have great leaders. Use the five strategies above to become the strong leader your nonprofit needs to succeed!