Nonprofit Leadership – The Ultimate Guide for a Real Difference

Nonprofit leadership helps direct a nonprofit toward meeting its organizational goals while inspiring staff and volunteers to effectively take on the challenges they encounter at work. The leadership of a nonprofit is primarily its Board of Directors. They are responsible for strategic planning, financial oversight, fundraising, and hiring other leadership roles like the Executive Director.…

7 minutes read
Nonprofit Leadership – The Ultimate Guide for a Real Difference

nonprofit leadership

Nonprofit leadership helps direct a nonprofit toward meeting its organizational goals while inspiring staff and volunteers to effectively take on the challenges they encounter at work. The leadership of a nonprofit is primarily its Board of Directors. They are responsible for strategic planning, financial oversight, fundraising, and hiring other leadership roles like the Executive Director.

Nonprofits usually lack the resources to solicit leaders with more qualifications and experience. Therefore, they must pay more attention to creating a culture of leadership and training for team members within their organization.

There are several steps and best practices an organization can take to develop, encourage, and support leaders as they grow. This article will help you gain insight into them.

Let’s take a look at what we’ll cover –

  1. Why Should Nonprofits Focus on Leadership Development?
  2. 5 Steps to Develop Efficient Nonprofit Leadership
  3. 9 Best Practices Your Leadership Must Follow for a Real Difference

Why should Nonprofits Focus on Leadership Development?

Nonprofits start with passion and an idea, but to ensure the vision becomes a reality, nonprofits need strong leadership.

Nonprofit leaders must build a team, encourage them to act, and oversee their successes and failures. At the same time, they’re responsible for promoting the organization and soliciting funding to ensure the nonprofit’s long-term existence.

Many nonprofits rely on volunteers to hold these leadership roles, but as an organization grows, it must hire and develop qualified leadership staff.

Most nonprofit staff and volunteers come from other career paths. Nonprofits that spend money on increasing employees’ knowledge and skills will see an excellent return on investment. Leadership training also helps keep nonprofit staff happy.

Finally, nonprofit organizations focusing on succession planning and preparing staff and volunteers to take over leadership roles can limit transition issues.

5 Steps to Develop Efficient Nonprofit Leadership

1. Create a professional development program

Like any project or campaign, you must create a plan to add leadership development and training to your organization. You’ll want to create a clear and concise road map for trainers, staff, and volunteers. The best way to do that is with a professional development program.

This program should include methodical processes for everyone to follow, clear goals, and fair compensation for all participants’ time and effort. By creating and following these practices, those involved in leadership training will benefit from clear communication and mutual respect.

2. Provide learning opportunities

Part of your professional development program is the learning opportunities offered to staff and volunteers for growth. If your nonprofit can afford it, you should fund external staff training and conferences for specific staff members.

Offering individuals these opportunities will let them know you care about their growth and are willing to help them meet their potential.

Another more affordable option is virtual webinars. There are many free and low-cost webinars available for all job types. Once again, offering to pay staff while they watch and learn from these webinars creates happy employees and a thriving work culture.

3. Create on-the-job experiences

non profit leadership

Leadership training is not limited to educational opportunities. There are many times when on-the-job experiences give individuals a stronger foundation.

Nonprofit fundraising activities are full of on-the-job experiences. A few examples of this include the following:

  • Volunteers and staff can take leadership roles during events.
  • Volunteers can run their own campaigns online and off.
  • You can let staff members steward individual major donors.

Start with delegating smaller tasks and monitoring their performance. There are a few things you’d want to spot in your ideal leaders –

  • The ability to take initiative and responsibilities.
  • A positive attitude toward working in a team.
  • Planning and strategy-making capabilities.
  • Strong networking and efficient communication within or outside the team.

When you’ve done that, it is time to trust them with more significant tasks.

4. Start team-building activities

Another way to find leaders in your staff and build a leadership culture is through team-building activities.

Nonprofits can take time for annual or semi-regular retreats and develop challenges for staff and volunteers, group training opportunities, speakers, and team games and activities.

By involving the entire staff in these practices, you strengthen connections between staff and create smoother transitions because of the trust that has been built.

Team fundraising can be a great way to get started with this – where you get to develop responsible leaders in your organization!

5. Take opinions & ideas from your staff

Ask for opinions and ideas from your volunteers, potential leaders, and staff whenever possible. Make this the rule for all positions in your nonprofit from the top down.

This way you create in them a sense of accountability and trust. As a result, you’ll watch team members strive to play a more significant role in your organization.

9 Best Practices Your Leadership must Follow for a Real Difference

So you’re working to build a leadership culture in your nonprofit organization. But how do you define the ideal way for your leaders to make a real difference in and for the organization?

These 8 best practices will help make this process easier for you!

1. Mentorship

Mentorship is a free and life-changing practice for nonprofit leaders. As the head of your organization, you can personally start mentoring immediate staff underneath you.

This may look different for different organizations. Some nonprofits will hold regular meetings with staff members. Others will be less formal. The purpose remains the same; to create a comfortable and encouraging environment and entice others to become mentors too.

Nonprofits can create mentorship programs for staff, board members, as well as volunteers.

2. Staff advancements

It’s understandable to be upset when you lose a good employee, but it’s also necessary to be happy for them and continue to build the relationship.

Nonprofits can never know where their next major donation will come from. Employees and volunteers can turn into donors and advocates for your nonprofit. Or they can spend time bad-mouthing you to others. How you treat and react to staff departures can make all the difference.

One way to avoid disruption when staff members leave is to create a succession plan – Don’t be caught unprepared!

3. Look outside the box

non profit organization leadership

When hiring staff and board members, nonprofits don’t have the advantage of paying more to get the most educated or experienced employees. Instead, nonprofits are forced to look outside the box to find individuals that stand out for other reasons.

When searching for staff and board members, it’s important to determine your goals and ask the following questions:

  • How do you see this role progressing?
  • What are the vital skills this role needs?
  • Is this role a stepping stone to other jobs in the nonprofit?

By answering these questions, you’ll have a better idea of what the individual that fills this position needs. From here, you can determine where training and on-the-job experience will help them develop these skills and what skills are non-negotiable.

It’s vital to keep an eye out for individuals that meet these requirements at all times and find ways to connect and keep in touch.

4. DEI initiatives

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are a popular trend and an essential need for nonprofit organizations. Recruiting and hiring a diverse staff and breaking down the organization’s internal biases are crucial steps that can help nonprofits develop greater leadership.

This is another area where it’s vital to think outside the box. Beneficiaries of your nonprofit’s services can be excellent board members when given a chance to participate. When planning to add DEI initiatives to your organization, you must develop a plan to ensure honesty and transparency when addressing diversity issues.

5. Volunteering

The best way to understand your organization is to see it from different perspectives. All nonprofit leaders should be willing and eager to volunteer during events and spread the word about your organization.

By volunteering, team members will hear different viewpoints and better understand issues that don’t affect them.

6. Transparency about goals

Transparency is the best way to build trust within your nonprofit. From the beginning, you must let all staff and volunteers know your overall goals and strategy.

You can make this part of the employee and staff orientation or keep it informal. You’ll also want to ask for individuals’ opinions and ideas on how to reach these goals. You can do this by adding it to your website and meeting regularly.

This transparency and openness to opinions will create a feeling of excitement and passion from team members.

7. Real-time feedback and compliments

Annual and quarterly reviews have been a tradition with most organizations. While you may still deem these necessary, giving feedback to your employees and volunteers whenever needed is essential.

By addressing issues immediately, you quickly catch bad and good work and don’t let bad feelings simmer until they explode.

Regular feedback can keep employees interested in their jobs and strengthen relationships between leaders and their teams. Keep checking in with staff on their progress as you build your organization.

8. Regular communication with staff and volunteers

Your nonprofit likely has a communication plan for major donors, members, and the public. You have different communication styles for these target markets and pay close attention to how they respond.

Do you do the same for your staff and volunteers? If not, you are losing out on the potential of these individuals.

Staff and volunteers know your organization better than anyone else. They also have a personal reason to fight for your success.

Creating a communication plan for these individuals and sending regular updates and requests for feedback will strengthen this connection. It will entice staff and volunteers to play more prominent roles in your organization even after they leave their positions.

9. Smart fundraising that involves and engages the team

Fundraising and solicitations are key roles nonprofit leaders have to play. As discussed before, this is an area where they can create on-the-job experiences, spot potential leaders among staff and volunteers, and build efficient teams. With smart fundraising involving employees, this becomes easy for nonprofit leaders!

A leader wants to help people under them grow and take on new challenges. A great way to make that happen while also raising funds is to start peer-to-peer fundraising. Create a fundraising campaign for meeting a need at your nonprofit and turn it into a peer-to-peer one. Invite staff and volunteers to create their own fundraising campaigns under it. Now, ask them to reach out to their individual networks and raise money for the organization.

An ideal leader would want to reward those who did the best and appreciate everyone who raised money.

Alternatively, leaders can also create small teams and ask each to raise money. Teams can select a leader who can guide them to successful fundraising. This will help build teamwork as well as leadership skills within the organization.

While the leadership engages in planning these activities, Donorbox Peer-to-Peer can help make them a success! Our product is simple to get started and use. You can create peer-to-peer campaigns on the platform and invite people right from there. They can sign up and easily create their own fundraising campaigns to raise money for the organization. See what Revelation Wellness, our nonprofit user, has got to say about Donorbox Peer-to-Peer –

Get Started With Donorbox

Final Thoughts

Nonprofit leadership is different for every organization. You must determine how your nonprofit can provide education and training and which personal attributes are necessary for your employees and volunteers.

As you create a professional development plan and start to put it into place, remember the suggestions and best practices mentioned in this article and decide which best fits your organization.

Donorbox has several blog posts to help nonprofits with governance, management, and training of volunteers and board members. You can find them and many other resources including free templates and samples to improve your donor management and fundraising efforts at the Donorbox Nonprofit Blog. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to get a curated list of our best resources directly in your inbox!

Want your donations to skyrocket via simple-to-use fundraising tools? Check out Donorbox and its powerful range of fundraising products including Recurring Donations, Text-to-Give, Crowdfunding, Peer-to-Peer, Events, Memberships, and more. Sign up for free to start fundraising today!

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Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.

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