Are you interested in pursuing a leadership career in the nonprofit sector? Perhaps you would like to help raise living standards for impoverished groups, improve environmental and climate conditions, enhance education in your community or fight famine and disease.
Nonprofit organizations exist to provide social value to communities and therefore demand uniquely specific skillsets from their leaders. Nonprofits rely on strong leadership at every level to achieve their mission and positively impact their causes. Effective managers and executives have the advanced leadership education, training, methodical processes, experience, clear goals and vision that enable them to approach their work confidently.
Vision and Communication
A nonprofit leader at every level, from middle management to the CEO or executive director, should be able to communicate the organization’s mission and social value in a way that resonates with staff, volunteers and other stakeholders. One key aspect of executive leadership in nonprofits is setting a clear vision for the organization. This vision should be inspiring, ambitious, achievable and aligned with the organization’s mission and values. In addition, it should consider the dynamics of socioeconomics and politics in the sphere in which the organization operates.
Despite the complexities, the leader should be able to communicate the vision to all stakeholders, including the board of directors, staff, volunteers and donors. A key aspect is identifying the social return that the nonprofit expects to achieve from resources invested. Beyond a financial return from fundraising, a social return demonstrates that the organization’s vision and execution make a difference for the community. Nonprofit executives must be outgoing in their roles and be highly visible ambassadors, continually communicating the return expected and delivered to all constituents.
Human resource (HR) management encompasses recruiting, retaining and managing staff, often with limited financial resources. An important aspect of nonprofit leadership is inspiring and motivating employees and volunteers. This entails building strong, diverse teams with accountable people structures and creating a culture of continual learning and collaboration.
Like for-profit businesses, effective nonprofits offer clear paths to leadership and prominence within the organization for ambitious, hard-working employees. Leaders are responsible for creating these paths through education, training and a structure that enables employees to set goals for advancing their careers.
Financial Resource Management
Effective financial resource management is also crucial for nonprofit leaders. This practice includes managing financial resources through initiatives, such as budgeting and fundraising — the driver of a nonprofit’s ability to carry out its purpose. Leaders should be able to work with the board to determine the most cost-effective marketing and fundraising activities and set expectations for what each initiative should accomplish. Possibilities include benefit events and galas, fundraising drives, endowment campaigns, grants and corporate fundraising partnerships. Leaders must provide oversight of these initiatives and make informed decisions about allocating inflows to achieve the mission and goals.
What Nonprofit HR Leaders Say About Talent Management
According to the 2022 Talent Management Priorities for Nonprofits Survey, just 25% of respondents indicated that their organizations had a formal talent management strategy for the year, even though 79% prioritized talent acquisition. Among the impediments to talent planning are insufficient staff resources dedicated to HR (64%) and financial resources dedicated to HR (50%). The top three talent acquisition priorities were attracting and hiring diverse talent (69%), strengthening internal capacity for interviewing candidates (50%) and strengthening the employer brand (46%).
The top three talent management priorities for nonprofit HR leaders were culture and engagement (49%), learning and development (37%) and performance management (48%). Some of the most important talent management objectives cited were the following:
- Restructuring existing performance management systems
- Increasing use of talent acquisition and performance management technologies
- Developing a learning and development strategy and implementing learning management systems
- Addressing pay and benefits inequities
- Implementing HR and talent metrics reporting
Adaptability and Change Management
Another vital aspect of nonprofit leadership is being adaptable and responsive to change. Nonprofit organizations often operate in dynamic and challenging environments affected by external forces, including economics and politics. Leaders must be able to navigate these changes and make quick decisions, which means being open to new ideas, willing to take risks and adapting to new situations.
A Culture of Accountability Starts at the Top
Because the success of nonprofits depends on goodwill, leaders in nonprofits should be transparent, accountable and honest about the organization’s financial and operational performance. They must also be responsive to feedback from stakeholders and willing to accept responsibility for their actions and decisions and adjust their strategies when necessary.
A Degree Program for Nonprofit Leadership
Overall, effective nonprofit leadership requires strategic thinking, strong communication skills, effective resource management, adaptability and transparency. Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Science (M.S.) – Organizational Leadership program curriculum provides the educational foundation, training and skills that nonprofit employers seek from the leaders they hire and promote.