What Does a Nonprofit Leader Really Need to Know?

Grace Armstrong Uncategorized

At the Nonprofit Leadership Center we partner with the University of Tampa to offer a graduate credit Certificate in Nonprofit Management. This program was developed to prepare emerging leaders to step into the roles that our retiring leaders are vacating.

I am a perfect example of a nonprofit leader who stepped into the role of Executive Director without ever having worked in a nonprofit, without ever being exposed to an Executive Director at work, and with no training in leadership. I had supervised a staff team and I had managed contracts. As I write today, I think back and ask myself, in an ideal world, what would have been the perfect set of knowledge and skills that would have helped me at that point in my career, given me confidence, and saved me lots of time.

This is what I think.

I think nonprofit leaders need to know how to bring out the best in others. This includes their board, their staff, and their prospects for resource support. Not everyone is born with this talent, but I believe that consciousness can be raised about the importance of this skill and I believe the skill can be taught. This can be taught through assessments and developing an understanding of self and others, through learning about emotional intelligence, and through case studies and role playing. In addition, leaders need performance management skills. After bringing out the best in staff, managing behavior for maximum performance is key to an organization’s success and sustainability.

I think leaders of nonprofit organizations need to be taught presentation skills and public speaking skills. The leader is the main voice of the organization and must be good at sharing information and persuading others. These skills are easily taught and learned through practice and feedback.

I think leaders of nonprofit organizations need to be taught to how to network. We are all thrust into this mode and many of us avoid it or complain about it. We often find someone else to do it for us. A few simple techniques can be taught, practiced, and discussed.

I think leaders of nonprofit organizations need to be taught to think strategically. Thinking ahead and bringing people together to work towards common goals is a key skill. This can be taught through examples and case studies.

Leaders of nonprofit organizations need to learn how to be problem solvers. Again, teach this through examples and case studies.

I believe in practical, thoughtful, skill based leadership development. I wish all new leaders could have the benefit of training and support in their first year on the job and periodically throughout their careers. It is a lonely and important job that can affect our society for the great good.