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How to Develop Yourself as a Nonprofit Leader

By Bisk

Learn the skills and traits needed to effectively lead a nonprofit organization.

How to Develop Yourself as a Nonprofit Leader

Nonprofit leaders share many of the same traits as successful leaders of any organization, which include steadfast motivation, clear communication, strong strategic thinking and the ability to forge relationships, among other competencies.

A study by nonprofit consulting firm Dewey & Kaye listed those abilities and also showed nonprofit leaders are strong in delegation skills, ethics and integrity, and maintaining a solid vision of mission and client focus.

The study also found that events in the lives of some leaders may have helped hone their abilities to lead a nonprofit organization, such as being thrown into their roles and learning by experience or facing adversity and difficult situations that can be part of daily nonprofit leadership.

The need for nonprofit leaders carries opportunity for professionals in the private sector who want to make the adjustment into nonprofit roles, or for nonprofit professionals to advance in their careers.

Becoming a Nonprofit Leader

Changing from the culture of a for-profit organization to that of a nonprofit can be challenging, and advancement in any organization requires meticulous work and effort. According to the Bridgespan Group, professionals interested in a nonprofit leadership role, either to take on additional responsibilities in their organization or by migrating from a corporate position to the nonprofit sector, can follow these steps to make the transition easier:

  • Gain Experience by Volunteering: It’s relatively easy to gain functional experience when working at a nonprofit. Many organizations have a small staff, providing constant opportunities for those seeking leadership roles to volunteer for projects outside their normal duties. Professionals interested in nonprofit leadership need to take the initiative to volunteer for tasks that impact the entire organization, such as human resources, event planning and fundraising. Those from the for-profit sector can gain insight into the nonprofit sector while also gaining experience and credibility with hiring managers through volunteering. 
  • Pursue Development Opportunities: Mid-level nonprofit professionals have a multitude of ways to acquire the skills needed to lead an organization. Informal routes such as joining professional networking groups and associations can provide valuable development opportunities and help to make important connections with other industry professionals. Formal routes, including seeking advanced education, can also serve as a pathway way to secure the necessary skills and gain a competitive advantage. 
  • Keep the Big Picture in Mind: Aspiring nonprofit leaders should always be attentive to projects and areas where their skills can be applied. Rather than narrowly focusing on one field, savvy professionals capitalize on their strengths by applying them in a variety of areas to gain experience and get noticed. Continuously looking for new ways to learn and grow is a key to becoming a well-rounded nonprofit leader. 
  • Be Willing to Change Organizations: For some, it may be difficult to gain the necessary skills needed to become a non-profit leader while staying at the same organization for a long-period of time. While changing jobs incessantly is a red flag to employers, making a few well-planned moves throughout a career can provide broad experience needed to develop into a leadership role.

Acquire Essential Skills through Education

Enrolling in the Notre Dame Executive Certificate in Transformational Nonprofit Leadership program provides insights into managing and leading a nonprofit organization. Courses cover raising capital, marketing, budgeting and allocation of assets to assist future leaders in meeting the unique challenges faced by nonprofits.

The program is designed for professionals hoping to transition into a nonprofit organization and for existing nonprofit managers and board members who wish to develop tools needed become more effective in their roles.


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Category: Nonprofit Leadership