Are You Ready for the New Competencies of Nonprofit Leadership?

Today, the executive leadership skills required for a nonprofit organization to succeed have changed dramatically. The new leadership requirements that will be needed to navigate and lead your organization include:

  • Visionary thinker
  • Entrepreneur
  • Relationship builder
  • Achievement driven
  • Collaborator
  • Inspirational motivator

Leaders need to be visionary thinkers. Today’s executive directors need to chart the future direction for their organization and communicate it to all stakeholders. Whereas, in the past, the board may have set the vision, more and more board members are asking the executive to step forward and demonstrate his or her leadership by stating the vision. Though it is crucial to collaborate and initiate discussions with your board on the topic, you must take the first step. It requires courage to set the vision but others will be inspired and motivated by your inspiration to chart a new course.

Having an entrepreneurial spirit is perhaps the most significant competency required by today’s nonprofit leaders. Executive directors need to become the chief entrepreneurial officer (CEO) for their organizations. Whereas, in the past, executives had to manage their 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 do something very similar. This “nonprofit stock price” is increased by positive achievements of your organization, effective communication newsletters and reports, board members who serve as ambassadors promoting your positive impact, 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 that a leader must have is the ability to build trusting relationships. Organizations whose leaders are able to bring out the best in others, whose leaders are able to make people feel important, whose leaders make people feel that their voices, concerns and actions do matter are the organizations that will be the most successful. For all the nonprofit executive directors who think they can do it alone without the support of their employees, think again. As an old saying goes (one of my favorites), “People may not remember what you did, they may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” I learned a long time ago that a leader’s job is to help his or her staff understand the importance of their respective roles and that their input is important.

Another new core competency for today’s nonprofit leaders is being the chief branding officer (CBO). Today’s nonprofit leaders need to build their organization’s positive brand through constant communication of your achievements and success. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Organizations that effectively communicate their successes are often highly successful in fundraising. This is not a coincidence.

It is also very important today to discuss the concept of collaboration from an executive leadership point of view. Far too often, executives have been concerned with control. The more programs they control the greater their perceived empire. Today, the opposite is true—the more a leadership can initiative discussions around collaboration, their chances of success increase. In recruiting and rewarding existing leaders, seek those whose personality allows them to be more collaborative and less controlling.

Last but not least, today’s nonprofit leaders need to be inspirational motivators to their staff, boards, donors and other key stakeholders. When resources are few and many employees are going without any pay increase for years, they will still perform their work at a very high level when they are led by inspiring leaders. Why are some organizations successful and others are not? The answer lies in the passion of their leaders—their unending search for excellence in all they do. They listen and actively seek input from their employees and board members. They earn people’s respect and trust; they don’t demand it. As leaders, they constantly reexamine their organizations from top to bottom. They set expectations for their staff and board, they communicate those expectations, and hold people accountable for measuring up. More importantly, they create a winning attitude that conveys the message to all that their organization is “the place to be” and share this with their stakeholders.

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Dennis C. Miller