Whether the board is seeking to replace a retiring executive director or requesting a search for a new CEO to move their organization to greater levels of success, the leadership skills they are seeking are much different than those of traditional nonprofit leaders.
As an executive search consultant for the nonprofit sector, boards are seeking chief executives with transformational leadership styles. Previously, boards placed a strong emphasis on recruiting executives who were passionate about the mission, experienced with grant writing, program development and had good management and community relationship skills. Though these skills remain important, the following are the leadership competencies that nonprofit boards are seeking:
- Visionary thinker
- Entrepreneurial spirit
- Relationship builder
- Brand builder
- Inspirational Motivator
Leaders need to be visionary thinkers. Today’s nonprofit executives need to chart the future direction for their organizations and communicate it to all stakeholders. Being a visionary thinker is reflective of the entire new competencies required for today’s nonprofit leaders. Whereas in the past the board may have set the vision, more and more board members are asking executives to step forward and demonstrate their leadership by stating their vision. Though it is crucial to collaborate and initiate discussions with their board members on setting the vision, board members want their executive leader to take the first step. It requires courage to set the vision and others will be inspired and motivated by your inspiration to chart a new course.
Having an entrepreneurial spirit is another key competency required by today’s transformational
nonprofit leaders. Executive directors need to become the chief entrepreneurial officer (CEO) for their organization. Whereas in the past executives had to manage the organization’s revenue, today they need to creatively build the revenue base by generating investments for the organization. They need to create revenue by building relationships with those willing to invest in them. In the for-profit world, chief executives are paid for increasing their stock price and improving the net worth of their investors. The nonprofit leaders of today need to be paid for doing something very similar. Your “nonprofit stock price” increases by the positive achievements of your organization, effective communication newsletters and reports, board members who serve as ambassadors promoting your good will, friend and fund development initiatives and creating an overall positive winning attitude among all stakeholders. The higher your stock price, the greater the likelihood that people will want to invest in your success.
Another competency of today’s nonprofit leader is the ability to build trusting relationships. Organizations where leaders can bring out the best in others, can make people feel important, make people feel that their voices, concerns and actions do matter are the organizations that will be the most successful. A leader’s job is to help the staff understand that individual goals are tied into achieving organizational goals. A key to building relationships is establishing your credibility with your colleagues. Whenever you consistently make decisions that benefit the organization, decisions that align with the organization’s mission, you will earn people’s trust and respect.
Another new core competency for today’s transformational nonprofit leaders is being the chief branding officer (CBO). The concept of building a positive brand identity for your organization is very important. The chief executive is the face of the organization. Though sometimes the board chair takes on this role, it is more and more the need of the executive director to be the chief communicator proudly letting everyone know of your achievements and results (thereby increasing your stock price). Nonprofit leaders traditionally informed stakeholders on the number of programs and services offered, how many people were served, how many tickets were sold and other organizational statistics. These facts were often thought of as indicators of organizational success. The reality today is that funders or investors are more interested in your achievements, outcomes and positive results. They want a return on their investment. Nonprofit leaders need to build an organization’s positive brand through constant communication of achievements and success. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn too.
Another key competency is the ability to be collaborative. Far too often, nonprofit leaders placed too much emphasis on control. The more programs they controlled the greater their perception of their empire. The opposite is true today. The chance of success increases the more a leader can initiate discussions around collaboration. In recruiting and rewarding existing leaders, boards are seeking executives whose personality allows them to be more collaborating and less controlling. Funders are seeking ways to foster and increase collaboration and are interested in receiving grant proposals that involve “teaming up” between organizations toward achieving a common goal. Collaborating with a competitor requires a new way of leadership thinking and behaving.
Today’s nonprofit leaders also need to be inspirational motivators to their staffs, board, donors and key stakeholders. The main reason organizations succeed compared to those who don’t, lies in the passion of their leaders and their unending search for excellence in all they do. Leaders that listen and actively seek input from their staff and board increase morale. They make decisions that are consistent with their values and promote the good of the organization. They earn the trust and respect of others. They set high expectations of themselves and for their staff and board and communicate these expectations and hold people accountable for measuring up. And more importantly, they create a winning attitude that conveys the message that their organization is “the place to be.”
Inspiring and motivating others toward achievement of a common vision, having an entrepreneurial spirit, building trusting and respectful relationships, proudly communicating your achievements and seeking collaboration are all skills required and sought after for today’s nonprofit transformational leadership. Only those leaders who can demonstrate the three C’s – courage, confidence and competence need to apply.