“A strong nonprofit leader drives a sense of mission down through the organization, upward into the board and outward in to the community. He or she is willing to do whatever it takes to enable the organization to follow their mission effectively.” (Light, P. 2002. Grasping for the Ring: Defining Strong Nonprofit Leadership)
Sound like a tall order? It is. In fact, leadership is the starting point to effective performance, organization-wide. To successfully lead and move his or her mission forward, today’s nonprofit leader needs to be more than just “the boss.”
Research shows that today’s leader needs a comprehensive set of financial, operational and executive skills that combine the best qualities of corporate-world “C-level” executives (think CEO, CFO,COO, CMO and the like).
In other words, the gauntlet is being thrown- so all Executive Directors and Directors everywhere - get out of your “ivory tower” office and mentality and into the “trenches” where the real work of abating and assisting social injustice needs in our country are vocalized with real-time evidence all around.
I have met Executive Directors and Directors of other social service organizations that cannot even tell me what their mission statement or visions for their agencies are much less tell me who are their client base, how effective is the work of those under them and are they making a difference with their programs and services offered.
Granted, in founding my secular nonprofit, I knew what the mission statement and vision of The Lighthouse for Recovery Ministries would be from the start to the present – I did not inherit an organization’s established missions and visions by virtue of employment into the executive suite.
But it goes without saying that an effective executive leaders need to have vision and passion along with the analytical and technical skills necessary to master the responsibilities of the job. But emotional competence is really the key to putting it all into practice.
The best leaders:
A great nonprofit leader is of course a “big idea” person. But he or she is also the organization’s chief storyteller, brand advocate, brand guardian, crisis spokesperson, chief marketing officer and chief fundraiser. To be effective in these roles, he or she must be authentic, and be able to connect, collaborate, persuade, mediate and negotiate with the best.
A great leader is also the ambassador for the health of his or her organization, both structurally and financially. This means he or she is responsible for building and maintaining relationships that enable the organization to flourish. He or she must recruit and retain the talent, and supply the tools necessary to develop a strong infrastructure and a culture that builds morale.
A great leader is “tapped in”, to his or her constituents, staff, board and the social and economic conditions that affect their mission. Faced with funding shortfalls, increased demand for services, and donors seeking demonstrated results for their dollars, today’s leader is a master at adapting, recognizing challenges to be overcome and seizing opportunities as they arise. Innovation is the name of the game, and a great leader is adept at making tough decisions that drive the mission forward, and keep the organization financially stable.
Most of all, a great leader, leads. Everyone around you should understand where you are headed and why. Ideally, they will live for it. This is where it’s your job to constantly express the mission with enthusiasm and build the big picture into absolutely everything.
If it seems like it’s not working, resist the urge to blame. Instead, explore the motivations and interests of employees, volunteers and board members. Maybe it’s time to get some insights into what’s driving people (or not) toward your mission.
In the nonprofit world, where funding is typically mission-driven, innovation often lags behind the need to pursue everyday programming activities. Organizations all across the country are innovating to create more impact. In fact, research shows many of these nonprofits utilize similar practices to help them go from good to great.
Here’s how your organization can go from good to great: