Nonprofit Leaders in Dynamic and Challenging Times

Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations requires business acumen as well as vision, direction and passion for their causes.

The Association for Talent Development has started a blog series on Nonprofits and their leaders, and it’s a series I’ll definitely be following.  The first entry is titled The Nonprofit Leader and was written by Sylvia Ramirez Benatti, an experienced Nonprofit leader and Professor of Nonprofit Management.  The article profiles how Nonprofit leaders are similar to, yet also very different from, corporate leaders.  It is a fascinating article and I highly recommend it. Nonprofit leadership requires more robust talents and skills that it is normally given credit for.  Many people seem to think that Nonprofit leaders are the kindly volunteers that devote their lives to their causes, and that is true.  But the Nonprofit leadership position requires far more skill than just kindly philanthropic tendencies.  As Dr. Benatti points out, it requires business acumen as well as vision, direction and passion for their causes. Feeling overwhelmed?When I became Director of the museum where I had been Curator of Collections for 18 months, it was both a scary and exciting time.  As a young museum professional, I barely felt qualified for the title of Curator, let alone Museum Director.  In my particular case, I was going to be required to be both, since the funds didn’t exist to fill both positions.  But one thing I recognized was that I was now in charge of a museum with a six figure annual budget, I was accountable to the County Commission which provided tax funding for the museum’s operations and therefore needed transparency and accountability in all areas, and I had more people I was responsible to than just the local stakeholders, visitors and donors.  Thankfully, when I was at Central Michigan University I received a professional certification in Public Administration in addition to my Masters, and this gave me not only insight into workings of local and state government (and thus how to work with City and County governments, to whom I was accountable), but it also gave me just enough knowledge about management and running organizations to know that I had A LOT I needed to learn. Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs on the campus of Wichita State UniversityI began the process of certification in Nonprofit Management from Wichita State University’s Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs a few months after ascending to my new position, and I spent the next two years both studying the fine points of Nonprofit management while simultaneously applying these new lessons immediately back at the museum.  It is a very fine program, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in working in Nonprofits.  All of my study materials stayed part of the museum when I departed, so that future directors could benefit from my experience and so that the improvements that I began would not wither on the vine after I left.  There are certain areas that are fairly consistent between Private, Public and Nonprofit administration, such as Human Resources and basic management and governance strategies.  But there are some areas where Nonprofit management is a far greater challenge than private management. As Dr. Banetti points out, the Nonprofit leader is accountable to far more parties and to far more purposes than your average private CEO.  Your average CEO is held accountable to the business’ stakeholders for ROI (Return on Investment).  But your Nonprofit leader is held accountable to a Board of Directors AND donors AND foundations for both ROI and ROM (Return on Mission).  I think she left a few other key players out here, such as government at all levels and volunteers and the people you serve as well as the other Nonprofits you form relationships with, but that would be a pretty long list for a short blog post.  In addition, the Nonprofit leader is working within much tighter constraints, and with significantly fewer resources.  This requires building and maintaining relationships with the Community, Government at all levels, Donors, Board Members and Volunteers. Nonprofits...more complex than they seem!Leading a Nonprofit is not as easy as it looks; it takes far more talent than it is often given credit for.  Dr. Banetti’s article is right on the money, and I’m glad she’s bringing attention to the changes and challenges in Nonprofit management.

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