3 Things That Will Help You Master Nonprofit Management


Many people think that great leaders are born, not made… And sure, I believe some people may be born with some of the key character traits of a leader… But I firmly believe that great leaders can be created. 

Those skilled in effective nonprofit management work hard to improve weaknesses while leading with their strengths. They are lifelong learners, conduct honest self-assessments, and constantly look for ways to improve their skills. After working with many incredible leaders, I have discovered 3 key areas they all hold in high priority.


1. They make all decisions consistent with their agency’s mission, vision, and values.


Great leaders know that mission creep is a constant threat, so they consistently guard against it. Mission Creep occurs when a leader deviates from the published Mission, Vision, and Values and allows the agency to enter into off-target activities.

Think about a soup kitchen that serves food to the homeless in their community. They are efficient, focused, and able to provide food for a large number of clients. But one day, with the best of intentions, they answer the call for help and start providing clothing for a few clients, then transportation to a job interview, and now job training. Pretty soon the whole team is inundated and overwhelmed, running in 5 directions at once. In time their core service — providing food to the homeless — begins to suffer.  This was never the intention, it just happened. 

The best way to avoid this costly mistake is to weigh all decisions in relation to the agency’s Mission, Vision, Values and strategic plan. If that new venture does not directly align with and further those principles, it should be declined and avoided. This isn’t to say you should never pursue strategic growth for your agency, but those truly effective in nonprofit management know that a new initiative should be thought out in advance, to allow for proper resource and operations planning. 

Any great idea that does not make it into the agency’s planning document should be ignored or tabled until the next planning session. The time, resources, and effort exerted while chasing these bright and shiny objects can threaten your main purposes. 


2. They focus on the now and leave the past in the past.


In an effort to run an agency smoothly and cost-effectively, many leaders employ common best practices, and look for opportunities to create simple, repeatable processes. The idea is to deliver key services to clients in an efficient manner at minimal cost. I get that. I’ve done that myself. However, the trouble comes when the leader fails to periodically reassess just what the client’s need to succeed. 

Many of us get stuck in the mindset of doing things because “that’s the way they’ve always been done.” Change can be difficult and it’s almost always easier to do something old again, then do something new for the first time. But great nonprofit management is about staying in the now and leaving the past behind.

The needs of a client will change over time. What they need to succeed in today’s environment can change over time. To ensure today’s offerings are exactly what the client needs, a successful leader will review their clients’ situation to determine if other offerings would be more helpful or if any current ones are no longer needed.

No agency should have the exact same offerings year in and year out without periodically investigating the current client needs. 


3. They take time to work on their agency, not just in it.


In one of my favorite classic books, The E-Myth Revisited, author Michael Gerber describes the danger of a leader working in their business and not on it. A strategic leader should periodically pull themself out of the agency and take a very clinical, dispassionate look to evaluate how it’s doing, how it’s organized, and whether there are some subtle changes going on that may be cause for concern.

Keeping one’s shoulder to the grindstone, just working harder and harder, can lead to missing the big picture. It’s critical that leaders step back and evaluate their agency. Ask yourself questions like, “If I weren’t involved in this agency, would I jump at the chance to lead it?” “Knowing what I know now, what would I change?” Great leaders will look at their agency from the outside, and evaluate objectively. While it can be disheartening to observe some of the things that might not be great, a wise leader will recognize the value of reviewing the organization for ways it can improve. 


After spending more time then we’ll mention… in leadership roles for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, I truly believe that leading a nonprofit is one of the toughest roles a leader can have. Serving the needs of clients, while also leading a staff, and managing the board relationship, can try the most seasoned leader. But I also believe it’s one of the greatest callings you can have.

I know that you’re likely overwhelmed. I know you’re pulled in a variety of directions. But I also believe, that all leaders have within them, the potential for great nonprofit management. It’s not an easy road, but it’s one that matters, and I believe you can make a bigger impact. 

Ready to Lead Your Nonprofit Better?

From the Inside Out can you help you create a bigger impact with your agency. Discover how to lead yourself, your team, and your board. Put it all together and learn how to successfully lead positive change. Download Chapter 1 free!