5 Things Nonprofits Can Celebrate from 2020

Why There’s Actually a Lot to Celebrate From 2020: A Year of Resilience & Impact for Nonprofits

Emily H. Benham | CEO, NLC News

2020 will most likely be remembered for its many challenges. Yet, as we reflect on the nonprofit sector’s response during this unprecedented — yes, I said it — year, incredible resilience and measurable impact are the headlines that stand out to me. As a nonprofit organization that exists to support other nonprofits, the Nonprofit Leadership Center’s results directly reflect yours. While, like COVID-19, all nonprofits were not equally impacted by the pandemic, there are still triumphs to celebrate.

As nonprofits grappled with meeting increased needs with fewer resources, recouping lost revenue from canceled fundraising events, and managing teams and operations remotely, leaders continued to invest in their people, organizations and communities’ futures. They fiercely and selflessly stepped in and stepped up to help individuals and families in their greatest times of need. And most importantly, they came together to collaborate for the greater good. We must not forget this part of 2020’s story.

As your partner in strengthening our nonprofit sector and communities, here are five reasons to be proud of 2020.

5 Nonprofit Highlights from 2020

1. Nonprofit leaders stepped up, even when resources were down.

With new societal circumstances requiring new strategies and skills, nonprofit leaders rose to the challenge in 2020. Although budgets were tighter than ever, leaders prioritized professional and personal development to expand their capacity, with a 48% increase in participation from 2019 in NLC’s training classes, Leadership Conference, custom solutions and peer-based learning groups. The unique number of leaders participating in learning experiences increased by nearly 12% in 2020, while participating nonprofit organizations increased by almost 50%.

2. The next generation of nonprofit leaders showed they’re ready to lead courageously.

In February of 2020, NLC launched our inaugural Certificate in Leadership program, thanks to support from Florida Blue. Twenty-one rising nonprofit professionals who are new to managing people or programs took part in this 10-week learning experience designed to prepare emerging nonprofit leaders to lead and manage in our dynamically changing sector.

NLC Launches Certificate in Leadership Program

Not only did participants share with us that the experience changed their lives and strengthened their leadership abilities, but the results significantly moved the needle:

  • After the program, 100% of participants agreed that they could respond authentically to the changes and challenges facing today’s nonprofit leaders, up from 59% before the program began.
  • Participants’ ability to understand themselves and manage their organizational responsibilities increased from 88% to 100% from the beginning to the end of the program.
  • 100% of participants agreed they understood their leadership style and could develop a plan to enhance their skills after the program, up from 77% before the program began.

“I am forever changed by this experience.”

2020 Certificate in Leadership Program Participant

3. While higher education struggled in 2020, nonprofit leaders broke records in graduate-level learning.

The Nonprofit Leadership Center and the University of Tampa launched the largest Certificate in Nonprofit Management class in the history of this graduate program, which began in 2007. Kicking off in August 2020, leaders remained relentless in their pursuit to reimagine their nonprofits’ futures by investing in their own.

4. Virtual programming extended our collective reach and results.

Like nearly every nonprofit or company worldwide, NLC quickly transitioned our learning experiences into dynamic and interactive virtual events beginning in March 2020. As a result, we reached nonprofit leaders far beyond Tampa Bay and the United States, with website visitors coming from 182 countries in 2020.

No longer confined by geography or available in-person seating, event participants came from as far as Hawaii and Zimbabwe, and nonprofit training class sizes increased by nearly 102%. That means more leaders in more places honed their skills and strengthened their organizations to improve our communities.

Expanding our reach with virtual programming
NLC Trainer Ellen Nastir prepares to teach an upcoming course online

5. Despite many limitations in 2020, strong leaders didn’t allow learning to be one of them.

Attending a webinar or one-off professional training event is easy; investing in year-round, long-term development requires intention and commitment. That’s why I’m pleased that the number of nonprofit organizations that engaged in three or more types of learning opportunities NLC offers (classes, Leadership Conference, custom training and peer-based leadership groups) increased by 27% in 2020. Great leaders know that it is what we do during the most trying times that demonstrates real leadership. Change happens when leaders remain committed to lifelong learning and continuous improvement.

As nonprofits continue to blaze new trails forward in the year ahead, the Nonprofit Leadership Center will keep offering new and innovative ways to help you on your journey. If you have a suggestion or need support, email us anytime at info@nlctb.org.

READ NEXT: Three Imperatives for Successful Leaders in 2021


Lead for Impact in 2021

Move your nonprofit and community forward with courage and conviction in 2021 by joining the Nonprofit Leadership Center for an upcoming professional training workshop, virtual course, certificate program or customized training for your organization. See the latest event schedule and browse upcoming learning experiences.


Emily H. Benham, FAHP, CFRE, has nearly four decades of experience in the nonprofit field. Before taking on the role of CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Center in 2014, Emily was the interim president for Bayfront HERO (Health, Education and Research Organization), a health legacy foundation formed in 2013 with the net proceeds of the sale of Bayfront Medical Center. She also served as a member of Bayfront Medical Center’s senior leadership team, directing its philanthropic arm for more than 20 years.

Prior to her work in health care philanthropy, Emily led fund development efforts at the Florida Orchestra, American Stage and the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami.

Emily is a native of Reading, Pennsylvania, and received her bachelor’s degree in music from Amherst College in Massachusetts. She’s an avid equestrian and competes regionally in dressage with her equine partner, Current Affair.


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