Becoming an executive leader in the nonprofit sector for the first time can be incredibly daunting. Becoming an inspiring, well-respected, and strong leader can present even more personal obstacles and challenges. Through our Nonprofit Spotlight interview series, we have interviewed hundreds of top nonprofit executives and have complied their best advice to help you grow into your leadership position.

1.Innovation is Key

In any top leadership role, being able to think creatively can guide the rest of your organization to greater success. For nonprofit work, innovation can also help fill a critical niche and lack of services within your community.

“Always look for the big picture, [and] think out of the box,” says Executive Director of CASA of Merced County Cathie Lancaster.

“Just because somebody did it one way before you doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it.”

2.Seek to Collaborate

While creativity can often permeate from leadership positions, learning how to collaborate with other staff members can benefit your organization, those receiving your services, and other nonprofits.

“I think it’s easy to keep your head down and really just concentrate on your particular organization without thinking on how you can collaborate with others and valuing what others can bring to the table,” explains Jessica Jens, Executive Director of the Riveredge Nature Center.

“There can’t be a power imbalance for true collaboration.”

“We work as a team, and we all contribute something,” states Lancaster.

“We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, but when you put us together, we work really well together for the benefit of the children.”

3.View Your Nonprofit as a Business

Nonprofits are often considered as not inhabiting a business model or structure. President & CEO of the Family & Children’s Place Pam Darnall states that while for-profit companies have different objectives, they can provide a blueprint to accomplish your organization’s mission and goals.

“We have some struggles that often for-profit industries do not have.”

“If this is your line of work, it’s not just that you can do good. We have to do good, and we have to run legitimate businesses.”

“We have to show that what we do works.”

4.Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

Ultimately, failure is a part of any business and should be embraced by nonprofit leaders as an opportunity to improve upon the elements that are integral to your organization.

“There’s so much ongoing learning to take place in so many directions,” says President & Founder of The Point/Arc of Northern Kentucky Judi Gerding on finding different avenues to advance your work.

“Have that determination and know that you are helping those who seek so little and who need more than most.”

For more experiences on nonprofit leadership, read our Nonprofit Spotlight interviews or watch our INSIGHT interviews produced in collaboration with PBS stations across the country.

To contribute your thoughts to our Nonprofit Spotlight series and other initiatives, please Contact Us.

 

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From the Experts: Maintaining Excellence as a Nonprofit Executive