5 Things You Need to Do Every Day to be a Successful Nonprofit Leader

March 1, 2019

Strong, thriving non-profits require great leaders.  This includes not only the CEO or Executive Director of the organization, but also skilled leaders in all areas, including programs, development, communications, and operations.  While leadership comes in many different forms, there are five key things that you as a non-profit leader need to do every day in order to be successful:

#1: Focus on Moving Projects Forward

Non-profits are unique places with different challenges than for-profit businesses.  Most non-profits are under-resourced and under-staffed, and yet they are trying to tackle immense problems to better their communities.  For this reason, organizations can often get stuck, spinning their wheels on certain projects while they try to figure out how to fund, staff, and resource programs and campaigns.

As a non-profit leader, it is up to you to figure out ways to move projects forward.  Every day, you need to focus on how your organization can do more good and help more people, even with limited resources.  Great non-profit leaders solve problems and keep projects and programs moving forward.

#2: Make Decisions

Great leaders make decisions.  They don’t make decisions rashly – they investigate their options, talk to their team, and think through the issues.  But ultimately, they make a decision.  Far too many non-profits get mired down in analysis paralysis. They spend countless hours debating the merits of a program, a fundraising campaign, or a back-office policy.  They form committees, make lists, and postpone decisions until they have more time to think about them.

As a non-profit leader, it is up to you to make decisions for your department, your team, and your organization.  Every day, you need to evaluate options and make the right choice so that your non-profit can move on to other things.   Not to worry, if you make the wrong decision, you can always analyze the results, and change course at a later date.

#3: Cast a Vision

Non-profits exist to do good in the world that otherwise wouldn’t get done.  In order to do more good, and to get donors, volunteers, and your community excited about supporting their work, non-profits need to cast a big vision and then communicate that vision to the world.  Non-profit leaders are the primary people responsible for casting a big vision for their organizations.

As a non-profit leader, it is up to you to cast as big a vision as possible for your non-profit.  You have many different audiences for that vision, including your staff, your board, your donors, your volunteers, your community at large, and those that you serve.  Every day, you need to remind people about the amazing things your non-profit is doing, and will do in the future, to help those in need.

#4: Keep Your Door Open

Great leaders don’t close themselves off in their offices.  Sure, there are times when leaders need to think, write, or otherwise be alone, but for the most part, strong leaders spend time every day interacting with their team. 

As a non-profit leader, your team will rely on you for guidance, decision-making, and strategic thinking.  For that reason, I always advise non-profit leaders to keep their doors open as often as possible, and to make sure that team members feel free to come to you for help. 

#5: Focus on ROI

Far too few non-profits are focused on return on investment (ROI) for their programs, fundraising, or operations.  Because of this, many organizations work with outdated technology, hold on to unprofitable fundraising events, and resist programmatic change that could have a positive effect on the people they serve.

As a non-profit leader, it is up to you to think about ROI and to remember the 80/20 principle… the idea that for most things, 20% of your efforts are going to result in 80% of your results.  Your team is in the weeds, providing services, meeting with donors, and answering the phones.  While you may be doing many of the same things, to be a great leader, you also need to spend a part of every day focused squarely on improving ROI for your non-profit.

Non-profits become strong, thriving, vital organizations because they have great leaders.  Use the five strategies above – every day – to become the strong leader your non-profit needs to succeed.

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