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If you work within the nonprofit sector, what are the best steps to follow in order to run a successful organization? Through our Nonprofit Spotlight interview series, we have interviewed hundreds of nonprofit leaders from different sectors who have shared the services, outreach, and goals of their organizations and have gathered some of their best advice. Whether you have been involved in the nonprofit sector for years or are seeking to fulfill an executive leadership role for the first time, it is crucial to assemble a dedicated team in order to execute your mission. We hope these insights help you develop indispensable talent and strengthen your organization and leadership.

1.Mobilize People Who Care

It is no secret that nonprofits seek to create teams that are not only dedicated to their work but also believe wholeheartedly in the organization’s mission. Of course, volunteers and staff play a pivotal role in the daily operations of any nonprofit, and their presence as passionate ambassadors for your organization can never be taken for granted.

“It was really hard to find people [who are] committed to do something for the community without getting something in exchange,” says Erika Lopez Lara, President & Founder of the Mexico-based environmental organization the Weeds Association.

“You have to find people that care about the problem you are trying to solve and find people that are passionate about that cause.”

“You really have to be grateful to your volunteers and recognize your volunteers,” says Director & Founder of Shark Stewards David McGuire.

“Without them, we couldn’t do the work that we do.”

2.Instill Trust in Your Team

While a dedicated team can help your organization gain momentum, learning how to seek assistance is imperative to realizing your mission. Like any other staff member, a leader must identify personal weaknesses and trust others to carry out any gaps in the infrastructure as failure to delegate tasks could jeopardize the future of the organization.

“The biggest thing is to know your strengths and to know the type of things you need help with,” says Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County Lynne West, who has been with the organization for over 32 years.

“You need to surround yourself with people who have the skills that you don’t. I’ve seen the mistake over and over where like-minded people who do the same thing wind up having issues because no one is doing the things they are not good at. As a leader, be honest with yourself, and find people that you trust.”

3.Develop and Maintain a Strong Strategic Plan

Every nonprofit is unique, but many of the financial issues faced by organizations are widespread. Financial constraints can often prevent your organization from turning aspirations into feasible outcomes. Tami Shields Silverman, President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute, recommends relying on funding and human resources to move forward with your goals.

“There are a lot of great organizations helping kids, and there are a lot of people that are passionate about that or another mission, but at the end of the day, if you don’t have your infrastructure strong, if you don’t know how you’re structuring dollars, [and] what your strategic plan is, you’re not going to be able to execute on those fantastic missions.”

4.Create a Positive Working Environment

At the end of the day, whether you are leading a nonprofit or a for-profit organization, valuing and respecting your staff and their personal lives is key to retention.

“We make it a practice to flex people’s hours [and] do whatever it takes,” says West.

“Some people have been with me for almost 15 years, and the core of my team has been here for 10 years or more. I think it’s good for an organization to not have turmoil and turnover.”

“You have to set a culture.”

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

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


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From the Experts: Top 4 Tips to Strengthen Your Nonprofit Team