What The Next Nonprofit Leader Must Have

What The Next Nonprofit Leader Must Have


What type of talent should The Next Generation Executive  Director cultivate in current staff?  What should they look for in new  hires? The answer is critical to understanding the changes taking place in our  current expectation of the Executive Director’s role and what tomorrow’s leader should posses.  If you are running a nonprofit, this  will impact your  effectiveness, the  effectiveness of your organization and ultimately your career. The qualities  that an ED values most in their team sets a standard that affects everything  from program development, fundraising, collaboration and the long-term success of a nonprofit.

Employer surveys over the past four decades document the  growing emphasis upon those “soft” skills: communication, dependability,  tenacity.  In fact, the transformation is now so complete that basic  technical skills requirement no longer rank in the top five of what employers seek.  As one Director explains, “I can teach them what they need to do a  good job, but they need those soft skills like persistence in order to do a  great job and add real value to this organization.”


There is also data suggesting that priorities in rudimentary job skill requirements are changing in important ways.  In the public, private and nonprofit  sectors it is creativity and teachability which dominate over the basic technical competencies in determining success on the job.

Note it doesn’t say administrative skill, passion or even commitment  to mission. In the Age of Austerity, this is an interesting shift.  Thus as the  economic environment changes, the threat to traditional nonprofit leaders is  titanic.  Retrenchment of government budgets, private household debt  burdens, the expansion of venture philanthropy, an emerging legal  framework for  public benefit corporations all represent fundamental core challenges to  traditional nonprofits.  Uncertainty is confronting today’s ED, many  of who sense a wave of change coming at them and thus generating a concern about the  ability of their staff to deal with it.


This is why The Next Generation Executive Director  views creativity and teachability as the essential leadership asset that must saturate a  nonprofit.

Kill Your Sacred Cows

Might As Well Break Your Business Model Before The World  Does It For You

The Great Recession has shaken many of the assumptions held  by those in charge. Since half of the EDs in America are 55 and older, this  means the majority of our leaders cut their management teeth back in the 70s  and early 80s, an age which valued basic administrative skill and virtually  ignored creative leadership.  When you consider that 40% of human service  nonprofits still conduct client intake via pen and paper, you get a sense that  even before the recession we were a few decades behind the curve.


It’s not the technical hardware we’re talking about, but the  interconnected mindset.  Most nonprofits just use technology to digitize  existing systems, sometimes described by management author Tom Peters as  ‘paving the cowpaths’. Today the world is massively  interconnected — economically, socially, and politically — and operating as a  system of systems. For too many Executive Directors, the answer is that their  stakeholders are plugged into their individual social networks, but not to the  nonprofit. So what does this look like for The New Nonprofit?

In a networked age of connection and complexity, emerging  nonprofit leaders are stressing fresh thinking and continuous innovation at all  levels of the organization. The Next Generation Executive Directors are  seizing upon innovation as the necessary element for nonprofits get nimble,  reinvent themselves and thus remain significant players in the funding and  service community.


So you’re looking for creative talent and innovative  thinking.  What does this do for the nonprofit?

Question your status quo. Most nonprofits have legacy  programs that are sacred cows. Often the need to perpetuate the ‘success’ of  these efforts stifles creativity within the organization and thus leaving  exciting new options open for other nonprofits to advance competing  innovations.  The Next Generation Executive Director understands that  new revenues will have to come from new sources, and thus be open to disrupt  current programs to create mental space for new thinking.

Rethink your business model. Directors who prioritize  strategic vision as a need in their staff are more likely to pursue innovation by  changing their business model. In an age of change, they surround themselves  with talent that can think on their feet and move tactically rather than await  direction from the laborious traditional strategy/planning sessions so beloved  these past few decades.  Strategic Thinking matters more than Strategic  Planning.  The Next Generation Executive Director builds staff capacity to  favor continuous, rapid-fire shifts and adjustments to their business models.

Any questions?

Destroy your institutional lethargy. The Next  Generation Executive Director will not await a safe bet…nor anything near certain.  Nor will they tolerate this need for assurance in their staff.  Creative leaders will develop a  team that fights the built-in status quo which urges going slow in the name of ‘considering  all options’ or ‘waiting for more information’ before making decisions.  Staff must have strong analytical skills to  sift through mountains of data and decide what is relevant. These talents drive  decision making that is faster, more precise, and even more obvious.  Creating this type of staff environment takes  a combination of vision, strategic awareness and intuitive confidence.  It also requires a certain tolerance of failure as innovation brings risk.  However, in an era of rapid change innovation brings far less risk than maintaining the status quo.


The Next Generation Executive Director must create a culture  which is far more transparent and entrepreneurial. The people in the  organization must believe that the changing economy is an opportunity, not a  threat. The New Nonprofit understands that risk is to be managed, not avoided.  The Next Generation Executive Director is one who can build a fluid  business model which gives staff the space to innovate and create.
Something significant is happening to the American economy  and to the nonprofit sector. In response to powerful external pressures and the
opportunities that accompany them, The Next Generation Executive  Directors are redefining the job. They are leading the sector in showing to the
rest of us that in an age of uncertainty that there is a creative path  forward.  There is a new generation  emerging. Is that you?

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