How Nonprofit Leadership Prepares for Its Future

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November 19, 2014; The Guardian

In the UK as well as the U.S., nonprofit leaders are faced with stresses and the demand to do more with less. Evolving high-functioning leaders in the nonprofit sector has become a focus of professional development programs.

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development in London found that nonprofits are the sector least likely to make talent management activities a priority. This, coupled with the fact that the Leading Social skills review found that civil society leaders remain loyal to an organization longer than in other sectors, is concerning in regard to the evolution of charities. Leaders need to ensure their skills and knowledge are passed on.

“Great leaders don’t predict the future, but in good or bad times we should always be looking for solutions to risks,” said Pauline Broomfield, chief executive of the Foundation for Social Improvement.

Compass Partnership identified that 58 percent of chief executives find their leadership team “very effective.” However, other studies have shown that 20 percent of charities report gaps in leadership and strategic thinking.

So, what skills do nonprofit leaders need to pass on to future generations? Julie Brooks, chief executive of The Conservation Volunteers, believes leaders need to inspire people and manage financial performance—in other words, “a business head with a charity heart.” In an October 2014 NPQ newswire, it was explained that timing, credibility, integrity, financial savvy, passion, and trustworthiness are six characteristics successful nonprofit leaders possess. Lastly, an online NPQ feature from July 2014—which references Principles & Practices for Nonprofit Excellence—notes that charity leaders need to also have strong decision-making and communication skills and the ability to create a positive, productive culture.

To develop future leaders, nonprofit executives are also taking advantage of shared leadership. In this type of culture, authority is broadly distributed; people within the organization lead each other, although they do not necessarily ignore a “top-down” hierarchy. Shared leadership provides the opportunity for all members of the team to showcase and grow leadership skills while learning from each other.

In her column from April 2013, Simone Joyaux quotes Marian Anderson, saying, “Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it.” This means making sure that growth of nonprofit organizations does not stop when a key executive moves on. Charity leaders know that nonprofit work is ever changing, and continuing to learn from employees, volunteers, and the community ensures that organizations will continue providing necessary services.

The last necessary skill, according to Brooks? “Resilience. Charity leaders accept that circumstances aren’t changing anytime soon, so they’re bouncing back, building great teams that support great services.”—Erin Lamb

  • Terry Fernsler

    Good, brief reminder of most of the primary aspects of leadership. The missing–and key one–stood out when I took issue with Ms. Broomfield’s statement. Great leaders, especially in the nonprofit sector, do indeed predict the future, through visions that, to paraphrase Marian Anderson, also are borne from the needs of those affected by them. To me, the vision must include succession planning for all valuable people in an organization (almost everyone) to effectively carry out the vital work of the nonprofit.