The Four Pillars of Successful Nonprofit Leadership: Business-Minded

The Four Pillars of Successful Nonprofit Leadership: Business-Minded

Your heart is in your mission. You live and breathe your cause, and nothing moves you like seeing the difference your nonprofit makes in your community. Your hands and feet are so hard at work operationalizing your vision that you barely have time for yourself. While these are all important attributes of a nonprofit leader, it won’t be effective without the leader being business-minded.

Just because you run a nonprofit organization does not mean you have to run a nonprofiting organization. While your heart and soul is engulfed in your mission, your mind needs to be operating with business basics. As financier Bernard Baruch once said, “No one ever lost money taking a profit.” That is why, in my book, A Guide to Achieving New Heights: The Four Pillars of Successful Nonprofit Leadership, I stress the importance of being business-minded and include it as the fourth pillar.

“Business” does not have to be a dirty word—throw out your notions of Mad Men-era morals and an aggressive corporate ladder. A business perspective has a lot to offer your nonprofit, like greater potential for carrying out your mission. Not sure how to wrap your head around a business-minded way of running your organization and leading your team? Below are four tips to achieve new heights as a business-minded leader.

  1. Balance the Margin and the Mission

The truth is without a margin there is no mission. The mission may be the heart of the nonprofit, but that importance is not an invitation to neglect your margin. Remember, your margin enables you live your mission fully, so you have to dedicate the proper time and resources to it.

  1. Think Bigger

If you keep cutting corners, eventually there will be nothing left to cut. Instead of focusing on where you can cut back to make your numbers, focus on how you can grow your top line. Think of businesses related to your nonprofit’s mission who might be willing to sponsor a special project or develop a new fundraising initiative. Remember: it is a lot easier to maintain your bottom line from the top.

  1. Invest in Your Employees

Mentoring programs and proper training not only help your employees learn the right way to do their jobs but also just what it is they are expected to do. Accountability is as important as responsibility when it comes to getting the job done, and giving your employees a strong foundation from which to build will help them—and your organization—thrive.

  1. Recognition is Rewarding

Part of being business-minded is recognizing—and acknowledging— good work when you see it. Whether it’s buying a cup of coffee for the employee who stayed late the night before or telling someone in person how much you love their new idea, positive feedback is a great way to motivate employees.

There is power in profit—it enables you to carry out your vision, get creative with the ways you make a difference in your community, and focus on your mission. Without business basics, your nonprofit becomes centered on making it through payroll and not the payoff your community receives from your hard work.

A good way to get started is to think of your nonprofit as a tax status and not your business plan. You can learn more about these tips in my book, A Guide to Achieving New Heights: The Four Pillars of Successful Nonprofit Leadership.


DCM Associates specializes in executive search projects representing a wide variety of industries for national, regional, or local nonprofit organizations, including independent and higher education, healthcare, and community building and social impact organizations. Learn more about DCM Associates today and contact us to help you become business-minded in your executive search process and within your overall nonprofit organization.