How to Hold the Keys to Strong Nonprofit Leadership (And Use Them!)

You could have a perfect balance in the world, but if you’re standing and relying on unstable ground, eventually it’ll all come crashing down.

This concept is true for real houses and card houses alike. Plus, in the grand scheme of your nonprofit’s structure, let’s just say the people you rely on most need to be rock-solid. You wouldn’t want the winds of nonprofit turmoil to huff and puff and blow your house down.

At the forefront of your structure are the leaders of your organization. Strong leadership will have the personality and characteristics to invoke and ensure a lifelong pursuit of doing more good.

Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics a strong leadership team will possess. See if your leadership team is stacking up or if it’s time to invoke some change.


Personal Characteristics

Eric Douglas, Executive Strategist for Leading Resources, Inc. recently outlined four personal qualities necessary to be a successful leader on LinkedIn.

Douglas’s mentioned traits pertained to Franklin Roosevelt, but can be translated to any great leader. The specific traits Douglas outlined included:

  1. Honor
    Following moral and ethical codes creating earned trust among peers. This is especially important in a sector built off of doing the right thing.
  2. Heart
    Having a passion for the task at hand. This shouldn’t be difficult to find in the nonprofit sector.
  3. Humility
    Putting aside your own ego to build the best possible culture of your organization.
  4. Humor
    Rolling with the punches and seeing the humor in life’s challenges. Trust me, there’s plenty of humor to be found if you look for it.


These four building blocks are a great starting point of what your leaders should possess. Let’s dive in even further to explore leadership skills that will help your organization in the quest to achieve your mission.


Somebody Who Isn’t Afraid of Change

A fearless leader is also fearless with change. A fearless leader is open to new ideas but supportive of the tactics that they’ve elected to keep in place. Change is the only way to make a difference. Think about it – if you constantly stay the same, your results will stay the same. That doesn’t mean you always have to make huge changes, but sometimes those big changes are necessary. Stay curious and constantly challenge if you can be doing something in a more productive way.


Somebody Who Puts the Organization First

It’s one thing to think about what’s best for you. “Seemingly good” (but mostly fake) leaders can make it seem like they’re doing what’s best for the organization as a whole while still keeping their own motives in mind. Don’t be fooled by those types of “leaders.”

Great leaders are selfless. They would do anything to make sure their organization’s future comes first. Keep in mind, that doesn’t always mean what’s best for the short team. It involves thinking about the longevity of the organization. Great leaders don’t think about themselves, they always have the mission in the back of their mind.


Somebody Who Knows Their Stuff (or Can Figure it Out)

This is perhaps the most obvious thing to look for in leadership. However, we listed it last for a reason. Yes, knowledge is one of the most important aspects of great leadership. You wouldn’t want somebody who isn’t qualified running the show.

Keep in mind that knowledge alone is not enough to lead. You’ve got to have the charisma to inspire and the personal skills to invoke major gifts. Knowing how to do something and being able to be a leader are two different things.

Let’s say you have two candidates. One knows the organization like the back of their hand, but everybody in the organization despises that person because they don’t know how to communicate with peers. The other has a passion for the mission, is not as-qualified but still meets the minimum job qualifications and has the leadership experience to figure out what they need to learn. I’d go with the second candidate on any day, and make sure to incorporate the knowledge of the first candidate at a higher position while cultivating the skills of working with peers.

Remember that it’s not always what’s on paper that matters as a leader.


If these descriptions sound like your leadership team, don’t forget to go out of your way and thank them for a job well done. It’s not easy being tasked to lead a nonprofit. We’ve been blown away by the countless individuals that are making the world a better place, whether we’ve interacted online or in person.

Added Bonus: Retreat! Retreat!

Sometimes the best way to dissect your current leadership and how to make your tactics better is to take a little retreat. Get out of your normal work space and go somewhere with a change of scenery. You’d be surprised at the creativity that can flow from new surroundings.
Write down everything you feel the organization has been doing right and everything you want to do better. Even getting it out on paper will make a world of difference.

nonprofit leadership

Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

May 15, 2017

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