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Nonprofit Leadership: How to Effectively Manage and Grow Your Organization

Andrew Langat
October 30, 2023
Picture illustrating how to grow non profit leadership
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Are you thinking of starting a nonprofit organization? Exploring a nonprofit career? Or are you currently leading one but need to improve your leadership acumen? If so, this guide is meant for you.

Leading a non-profit requires a unique set of skills. This is because nonprofits operate differently from for-profit companies. For example, nonprofit leaders are driven by a need to address a social, humanitarian, or environmental issue, while for-profit leaders typically focus on maximizing profits and shareholder value.

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What Is a Nonprofit Organization?

A non-profit organization operates for other purposes ⁠— usually for the good of the public ⁠— rather than generating profit. They can take the form of charitable organizations, personal enterprises, or corporations. Examples of nonprofit organizations include: churches, public charities, hospitals, legal aid societies, research institutes, public schools, and governmental agencies.

Some examples of popular nonprofit organizations include UNICEF, Greenpeace, The Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation, Amnesty International, and Doctors without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres).

In most jurisdictions, nonprofit organizations are generally exempted from paying taxes chiefly because they further a social reason that benefits a whole collective.

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What Is Nonprofit leadership?

Nonprofit leadership is the type of leadership where an individual directs a nonprofit organization to meet its goals while creating a professional development plan that staff members and volunteers can use to improve their operations.

Nonprofit leaders are responsible for getting team members to work together toward a common goal that is beneficial in the long run. They are mainly responsible for fundraising, financial oversight, strategic planning, and hiring key personnel like an Executive Director.

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How to Manage and Grow Your Nonprofit Organization

About 30% of nonprofit organizations close within ten years. There are various reasons for this and one of which stems from failure in leadership. The bottom line is that leadership development is necessary in any workspace. It is beneficial to your team's morale and also attracts new talent that can grow your organization.

Steps to Manage and Grow Your Non-Profit Organization

How do you then navigate this potential pitfall? Here are some ways of managing and growing your nonprofit organization.

1. Build a Solid Leadership Team

Building a solid team of leaders can be done in the following ways: identifying and nurturing emerging leaders, creating a diverse, inclusive leadership ensemble, and balancing technical expertise and leadership skills.

Identify and nurture emerging leaders.

As the leader of your nonprofit, one of your duties is nurturing the next generation of leaders within the organization. This can entail recruiting stars in your industry, mentoring star employees, and exercising executive presence.

Moreover, adopting a coaching leadership style can help mentor potential leaders.

Create a diverse and inclusive leadership ensemble.

To create a successful nonprofit organization, you need competent individuals in leadership positions, including experienced board members. You will need an innovative and creative team that is diverse and inclusive.

Having a diverse staff will help you develop an inclusive culture that is more likely to be innovative and anticipate change, hence ensuring a successful future.

Balance technical expertise with leadership skills.

Technical and leadership proficiency are essential for success. When you're building a strong leadership team you need effective leaders who are technically proficient as well as have good leadership skills.

Technical experts can recognize issues, analyze solutions, make decisions, translate technical knowledge into insights, and effectively communicate complex concepts. Leadership skills like communication, emotional intelligence, and active listening help a leader build relationships within the team.

Your leadership team needs both the skills and the technical acumen to excel and propel your organization to success.

2. Strategic Planning and Goal Setting

Set clear and achievable organizational goals.

Set up clear goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic. This will give your team something to work towards, and also this gives them something to fall back on when they encounter a challenge.

Develop a roadmap for long-term sustainability.

Develop a sustainable plan that will be a blueprint your organization can use to achieve long-term goals. Having a sustainable plan that is realistic can keep your employees locked in and motivated to perform and achieve results.

Align leadership vision with the nonprofit's mission.

Define a clear mission and vision for your organization that can help you set strategic objectives in alignment with the company goals.

Translate the strategic objectives into operational strategies that can be developed, monitored, and evaluated. This will ensure that your goals are always closely monitored and any deviations from the plans are corrected. It will also help you to stay true to your organization's mission and vision.

3. Fundraising and Resource Management

Craft an effective fundraising strategy.

Many nonprofits depend on fundraising to fund their operation and must have an effective fundraising strategy. The strategy will be a blueprint for you and your team to follow at each stage of the fundraising process.

The fundraising strategies vary depending on the goals, capacity, and size of your nonprofit organization. Therefore, when crafting the fundraising strategy, be well-detailed and thorough. This will ensure that all bases are covered, giving your organization a greater chance of success.

A good fundraising strategy can help you gain more donors who care about your cause will be enthusiastic about supporting you in your endeavors.

Allocate resources for maximum impact.

Resource management in nonprofit organizations is essential because it allows you to prepare and plan for programs. Strategically allocate resources to the right sectors within your organization so that you can optimize your operations and achieve long-term success.

Optimize your budget so that every aspect is allocated adequate resources, and so that the resource allocation remains aligned with your organizational goals.

4. Effective Communication Strategies

Open communication channels within the organization.

Communication is a crucial aspect of any organization. If you want your organization to grow and prosper, delivering the right communication is essential.

An open communication channel will allow you to share constructive feedback with your employees. This will encourage them to be more engaged in their work and it also creates an environment where innovative ideas can be shared.

You can follow the the five Cs of effective communication to create and maintain open communication channel within the organization.

Engage stakeholders through compelling storytelling.

Stakeholders make your organization work and operate smoothly, so it is imperative to identify what their needs are and how can you satisfy them.

For a nonprofit organization, the story needs to be compelling and well-structured. Your stakeholders will help you solve problems so you need to be sure you are communicating the story and goals for your company clearly every step of the way. When they understand and support your mission, convincing them to help you solve problems that stand in the way of success will be easy.

You can also embrace technology and come up with a digital strategy so that you can enhance your nonprofit's online availability and inspire your audience with compelling content.

5. Empowering and Developing Staff

Foster a culture of learning and development.

Organizations must be dynamic and agile to meet ongoing challenges in the world, and one way is to foster a continuous learning culture.

Fostering a culture of learning and development where ideas can be exchanged and shared can be important for solving day-to-day problems. Additionally, when you offer professional development, employees will be encouraged to learn and improve their skills, which can lead to more employee engagement.

Provide mentorship and growth opportunities.

Mentorship and growth opportunities are big assets, especially for employees. A study by LinkedIn showed that 94% of employees would prefer to stay at a company if they are provided with growth opportunities.

Develop mentorship programs for your team and customize the opportunities to suit the needs of the employees in your organization. Offering mentoring opportunities to your team can assist in developing their skills, gaining valuable knowledge, and building meaningful connections.

Recognize and reward contributions to boost morale.

Your employees will always feed off the energy you provide when you recognize and appreciate their work, efforts, and achievements. It boosts morale and motivation and creates positive connections among employees.

6. Measuring Success and Impact

Establish key performance indicators (KPIs).

A key performance indicator (KPI) will help you gauge the organization's overall long-term performance and determine operational, financial, and strategic achievements.

Nonprofits can quickly adapt to changing conditions by assessing their progress with KPIs and making necessary corrections.

Utilize data-driven decision-making for organizational growth.

The business world is quickly changing and more organizations and companies are now embracing technology. Therefore, when establishing your nonprofit, leverage digital insights to collect data that can help you make decisions.

Data-based decision-making will propel your business to new heights while making it more adaptable to an ever-changing commercial landscape. It should be at the heart of all of your strategies, activities, and operations. 

7. Sustain Growth and Legacy

Continuously innovate to stay relevant.

Nonprofit organizations that are not innovative are at risk of being irrelevant. Therefore, to stay relevant ensure that your organization is innovative and pay close attention to growing and changing needs and advancements, whether they are methodological or technological.

Be proactive and develop programs that allow a new innovative culture to emerge within your organization. When employees are comfortable applying new ideas to their operations, they can complete tasks quicker and they will be highly engaged in all that they do.

Plan for leadership succession and continuity.

Your leadership reign may one day come to an end and you need to find a way of investing in the future. Having a talent strategy that includes in-house training, recognition and rewards, and daily/weekly on-the-job learning can be crucial for successful succession planning.

Design a comprehensive leadership plan that can allow for a smooth transition. This can start by delegating more responsibilities and providing mentoring to your colleagues as they take on tasks that may be new to them.

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Key Traits of Effective Nonprofit Leaders

Transitioning from a profit-based organization to a nonprofit is a massive shift in focus and approach and can be a steep learning curve. For strong leaders who understand the purpose of leadership, the transition can be easier because they possess some key traits to make them effective nonprofit leaders.

So what are the key traits of a nonprofit leader? Here are some:

Traits of Effective Nonprofit Leaders

Visionary Leadership

Every organization, whether for-profit or nonprofit, should have a vision i.e. raison d'etre that guides every decision and action to be made. Therefore, to be an effective nonprofit leader you must have a vision.

Effective nonprofit leaders have a strong vision and they ensure that it becomes a reality by setting clear goals, having a strategic plan, and empowering their team members with enough resources to make the organization's mission and vision come to fruition.

In addition to being visionaries, effective nonprofit leaders possess strong communication skills to articulate their vision to their team members and stakeholders.

A good example of visionary leadership in the nonprofit leadership is the late Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement. Through her leadership style as an environment activist, she created impact and inspired widespread consciousness in the need to safeguard the environment. Her efforts led her to win the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and to countless trees being planted.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence ranks highly as a core trait for great leadership. Effective nonprofit leaders have high emotional intelligence which helps them navigate relationships with stakeholders, board members, and manage behaviors that can negatively impact a team.

Effective nonprofit leaders understand the importance of having a good team around them and they know how to unlock their potential. They know how to bring together a diverse set of individuals to work together and motivate them to achieve success.

Malala Yousafzai is one such leader in the nonprofit sector who has demonstrated empathy, resilience, compassion, and global connectivity in leading her organization, the Malala Fund. The organization has since grown to support girl education initiatives in countries such as Turkey, Nigeria, India, Brazil, and Lebanon.

If you want to learn more, check out Emotional Intelligence in Leadership.


Adaptability makes a leader able to adapt to the rapidly changing world, embracing change and encouraging innovation to help the organization achieve its goals and objectives.

Adaptable leaders can thrive in a dynamic nonprofit landscape where they can seize opportunities and create continuous learning strategies.

For example, black-swan events such as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created turbulence in nonprofit sectors that heavily relied on external funding. Funding was swiftly reduced or cut completely during the early stages of the pandemic. This created a financial crisis. Well-adapted leaders were able to shift to working in digital channels and adopt business models.

With their adaptability, effective nonprofit leaders can create an environment for professional development opportunities where the team can learn, improve, and navigate the nonprofit world with ease.

Cultural Capacity

Having cultural competency is crucial for the recruitment and retention of employees. When employees do not feel acknowledged, listened to, or valued, they are unlikely to join or stay in your organization.

Cultural capacity is described as an organization's ability to manage and harness its whole culture to meet its aims and objectives.

Great leaders create a good work culture where they focus on inclusion and diversity. A work culture is important for team development and can be done in the following ways:

  • Encouraging feedback in the workplace
  • Creating opportunities for training
  • Providing workplace bias training
  • Maintaining a psychologically safe environment.
Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

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Let Highrise teach you more about leadership skills.

Professional development opportunities such as coaching are what you need to improve your leadership skills. At Highrise, we have an array of coaching expertise, methodologies, and leadership tools to enhance your leadership acumen.

We know what it feels like to be in your shoes and we always operate from that perspective. Sign up today and enroll in a professional development plan that will make you stand out in the nonprofit sector.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.