It’s no secret we’re living in a world of increasing turmoil. Violence is escalating. Hate is rising. Lines are being drawn and redrawn every day as portions of our country band together to oppose others. Culturally and politically, we are as divided as we ever have been.

But on the other side, we have those battling for unity, for acceptance, for peace. We have those willing to listen to their opposition, try to understand each other’s views and ultimately work together to find answers.

More than ever before, this is the time for great leadership. Nervous staff, volunteers, and key partners are looking for nonprofit leadership to provide a sense of calm and steady direction to navigate through all the noise.

We need strong leadership right now! We need leaders who will take initiative. Those who can make sense of the chaos and use it to guide followers down a path of understanding, reinvigoration and progress.

Leaders need to step out in front and show the way forward for their agencies. They need to draw upon their moral courage to make the tough decisions called for in this challenging environment. In other words, to lead well even when the heat is on. 

Do you have what it takes?

The 10 Characteristics of Effective Nonprofit Leaders

  1. They are confident in their abilities.
  2. They are Informed — both about their agency, and the world around it.
  3. They are committed to the mission and have a passion for change.
  4. They are tough and up to the challenges of today.
  5. They pursue coaching or mentoring to stay sharp and gain outside perspective.
  6. They are able to retain key staff and volunteers — even when times are challenging.
  7. They are able to compete for and retain the very best board directors.
  8. They are not locked in to old ways but are willing to try new techniques and approaches to confront new challenges
  9. They are in control yet create an appropriate level of healthy discomfort to keep everyone on their toes.
  10. They are aware of their strengths and weaknesses and know how to leverage their team.

How many of these characteristics do you have? Are you aware of your abilities? Can you influence your team for positive change?

Nonprofit leadership is becoming more difficult by the day.

This is not your father’s nonprofit. The landscape is changing.

Demands from outside parties and donors for transparency are at all time highs.

Your same old development plans seem stale and underperforming. The annual gala seems passé and is shrinking. Donors are seeking much more information and accountability. They are conflicted about what cause(s) to support: Veteran causes; Social services for the poor; The environment; Animal rescue/abuse; National disaster relief.

Many nonprofit agencies are either closing down, merging or significantly shrinking due to ever tightening budgets. There are new nonprofit agencies opening up almost daily who compete for the same limited number of directors, dollars, attention, staff/vol’s, and marketing attention.

The is a great deal of social media engagement, but it may be suffocating rather than providing better communication. It is hard to get out a clear message to attract new followers with so much going on in the world. There is a greater number of nonprofits (both old and new) today telling their story, seeking connections, and contacting as many people as possible to ensure they do not get lost in the social media noise.

Yet, at the same time this is a period of great opportunity:

We have millennials armed with technology and social media, with the ability to share their message with thousands at the touch of a button. If you can find a way to connect with them, you can also connect with their network of peers on social media.

Old ways of success may no longer work well, giving you the opportunity to create new ways to succeed. You don’t have to follow the old rules or do things the way the other guys did it.

There is plenty of room for smarter, more nimble, creative nonprofits to thrive since old rules and constrictions no longer apply.

Technology levels the playing field for everyone. Being big, or the most established nonprofit in your community is no longer a protection from new competition, nor is it a requirement to thrive. You don’t have to be big and established to look big and established.

Today’s new leaders think in drastically new ways. Look at Amazon, Lyft, Uber. So many gifted people with a great deal to offer nonprofits are available, just sitting at home and looking for a cause beyond themselves to help.

Strong leaders and strong boards can still live out their mission and make a huge difference, even in light of this turbulence. 

What will it take to succeed in today’s challenging times? 

  • Leaders must be freed from old thinking to make the necessary changes so the agency can effectively carry out its’ calling.
  • Leaders and boards must be absolutely clear on their mission, and stay focused on it. When necessary, provide clear and actionable explanations to anyone who may be confused.
  • Leaders and boards must ensure they have a clear implementation plan so everyone knows their role in achieving your strategy and improving nonprofit leadership.
  • Leaders must hold everyone accountable to carry out their commitments and responsibilities.
  • Leaders must provide frequent and consistent communication – internally and externally.
  • Leaders and boards must demonstrate strong moral courage to make tough calls, speak truth to others, and review the viability of struggling programs even in the face of opposition.
  • Directors must remember their fiduciary role and governance responsibilities regardless of turmoil.
  • Directors must be crystal clear in understanding the expectations placed on them and their unique roles.
  • Leaders must be ready to change how they lead to match the challenges presented by today’s operational environment.

You are leading in a period of enormous change and even greater potential change. I believe periods of great change demand strong and innovative leaders. Leaders that will change the world. Leaders that will drive forward their causes, despite challenges. Leaders who are smart, flexible, and driven by passion.

What do you need to up your game so your agency can succeed? Better leadership skills, a stronger board, a mix of different skill sets, better training and a new strategic plan.

Need a little help to develop your leadership? I’ve been working with nonprofit leaders for many years and I’d love to help you take your organization where you want to it to go. Find out if Leading for Impact is right for you. Learn more.

Learn how your unique qualities can benefit your organization in times of turmoil.