All nonprofits have growth in mind. When you grow your organization, you raise more funds. You increase your impact on the community. And you spread the word far and wide about your admirable mission. The recipe for growth requires one vital ingredient you already have access to. This ingredient is leadership.
You are likely an effective leader in your organization. But you can’t be the sole individual to lead your team to success. Find other leaders at your organization you can trust with the responsibility of organizational growth and team satisfaction.
Potential leaders could be hiding among your staff members. It’s your job to seek them out and help them become mentors, managers, and advocates of your strategy.
In this guide, we’ll walk through the steps to identify the future leaders of your organization. And we’ll provide tips to support their growth within your nonprofit. The three core steps to accomplish this include:
- Identify Leadership Qualities
- Provide Learning Opportunities
- Offer Opportunities to Show Leadership
You may notice that nonprofit professional development is at the core of these steps. To encourage more effective leaders, you’ll need to support their professional development. Let’s get started!
Identify Leadership Qualities
Before you recruit new leaders at your organization, take some first steps. These will ensure you’re connecting with those with a knack for leadership in the first place. Start by defining the qualities that make a good leader.
Then you can confidently choose the candidates most likely to become your organization’s next great leaders.
To help, we’ve listed out a few of the common qualities of effective leaders below:
- Honesty and integrity
- Communication skills
- Creative problem solving
- Decision-making skills
If someone immediately pops into your mind, put them on your list. Maybe it’s the team member who goes above and beyond to build relationships with donors. Or the staff member always improving processes at your organization.
But first, consider which of your team members actually want to lead. Have honest conversations. Ask them what they’d like to do within your organization. And ask what positions they’re interested in taking on in the future. Chances are, those individuals who just popped into your head will be the same ones who want to lead in the future. But if they don’t have that desire, be ready to respect their choice.
Your best leaders have the right qualities for the job and the desire to lead their peers to success.
Do you have a human resources department? If so, consult with them when staff members ask to take on leadership opportunities. According to Astron Solutions’ guide to nonprofit HR, this is one of the core responsibilities of your HR department. Make sure managers and decision-makers are also included in these conversations. They’re the ones who can help the individual move forward.
Provide Learning Opportunities
Just because a staff member doesn’t hit every quality in the last section doesn’t mean they won’t make a good leader. Chances are your future leaders won’t already have every quality you want to see in your team’s leadership. That’s why they need your support to become the best leaders they can be.
The first step is to provide learning opportunities that staff need to gain the qualities and skills they currently lack.
You’ll need to have some honest conversations with your staff members about their strengths and weaknesses. Then make recommendations for improvement opportunities. Generally, these opportunities involve some sort of education.
There are many educational options available. But there are two primary methods that provide guided learning materials:
- Providing internally-created nonprofit courses. To advance your staff members’ skill sets, you can offer internally-developed courses. These can address the specific qualities needed at your organization. These courses can become prerequisites for promotion or leadership positions. And they can be specialized with examples and scenarios that staff are likely to encounter at your organization. But creating these materials can be challenging. So you’ll need to find the best learning management system (LMS) provider. According to this guide, this is an integral part of the course creation process.
- Investing in externally-crafted courses for skill development. You might decide to look outside your organization for pre-designed courses. Internally-created courses allow you to relate each lesson to specific situations within your organization. But you probably don’t have the time needed to create courses specific to each individual. External resources are more likely to be specific to the needs of each prospective leader. The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance guide to nonprofit courses explains that some course providers operate on a subscription basis. So you can encourage staff members to take courses best for their development as well as any additional courses that interest them.
Leadership in action
Let’s say you’re looking for a new development director for your team. You’d like to hire internally. You might think ahead and say, “for anyone looking to take on leadership roles in the development department, we should have a course to bring them up-to-standard.” If you have the resources, consider developing your own educational materials. Make sure they cover all the qualities and skills you want to see in a development leader so that everyone who goes through the course has a standardized approach to the lessons.
Or you might say, “I’d love to see Susie in the role of development director. She’s a great decision-maker and a proactive problem solver. However, she doesn’t currently have the public speaking skills necessary for the position.” In this case, you might work directly with Susie and help her find courses that cover communication skills so she’s ready to take on the new role.
Offer Opportunities to Show Leadership
Education is key to developing leaders at your organization. But you’ll also need to encourage individuals to apply what they’ve learned to your organization’s strategy. Let your future leaders practice their newfound skills first.
This will be a test run. Provide feedback to these trainees and help them get used to their new duties before taking on a permanent leadership position.
Let’s revisit the example of Susie, our prospective development director. She takes a course dedicated to helping nonprofit professionals become better communicators. After she finishes the course, she is assigned to lead a weekly team meeting for her fellow development professionals. During these meetings, she presents trends, new ideas, and team-wide updates.
Susie probably won’t run the absolute best team meeting right off the bat. She’ll likely be nervous and may use a few too many filler words. But that’s ok! This is an opportunity for her to practice, make mistakes, and receive feedback.
After some practice, Susie will be ready to take on the additional responsibilities of the development director and likely do an excellent job with all aspects of the position.
Nonprofit leaders may seem hard to come by. But the truth is you likely have some prospective leaders right in front of you! They just need to be given the chance to take action. By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to develop your staff and ultimately grow your organization. Good luck!
Susan Tomlinson Schmidt has dedicated her life to serving others through more than 25 years advancing the missions of social-impact organizations. Currently, Schmidt is the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance president, an organization that develops talent for the nonprofit workforce.
She received her master’s in public administration from the University of Memphis and is a Certified Nonprofit Professional. Schmidt and her husband, David, a professional chef, have two sons, Patrick and Walker. They live in Leawood, Kansas.
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