5 Ideas for Better Leadership (Plus 5 Mistakes to Avoid)



Nonprofit leaders set the tone for their staff. In rejecting these all-too-common directives, leaders can motivate their teams, help release untapped potential and cast vision for a hopeful future.

In our recent State of Good 2018 Report we found that Executive leadership at nonprofits were the most critical of the industry, with 43% answering “No” to the question “Do you believe the nonprofit sector, as a whole, is healthy?”.

These findings have inspired us to pull together these 5 leadership mistakes and 5 leadership wins.

Mistake 1:

“We’re running on fumes here. For now, fundraising has to be our sole focus.”

The problem with the “fundraise-first-innovate-later” approach is that later never arrives. As giving grows, so do budgets. The pressure to raise more money never recedes. Soon, the organization finds itself serving budget targets rather than its original vision. Under that kind of pressure, status quo becomes acceptable.

Better Approach:

“Times are tough. It’s time to innovate even more.”

Innovative leaders among nonprofits give their people the freedom to take calculated risks that cost time and money. And visionary innovation attracts investment. Always.

Mistake 2:

“The sky is falling! But carry on.”

Nothing kills staff morale like a constant message that they and their organization are failing. A staff takes cues from its leaders. An alarmed or pessimistic tone from the top carries much influence. If all the team hears about is the critical need for more fundraising, then fear and self-preservation will become their motivators. People and organizations don’t innovate well from a posture of self-defense.

Better Approach:

“Hey, we all know we need to grow the organization more. The best way we can do that is to stay on mission together and keep our eyes on the vision.”

Protect your culture. Now’s the time to discuss good ideas, even crazy ideas, and take a calculated risk or two. People, not money, will solve problems and move the organization forward.

Mistake 3:

“The mission takes priority over the people.”

Unhealthy organizations treat people — their most valuable resources — as expendable commodities. Their people recognize that immediately, and the most talented and visionary quickly leave for a place they’ll feel valued.

Better Approach:

Thanks for the incredible work you’re doing. What can we do to make this role and org an even better fit for you?”

Turnover carries heavy costs in institutional knowledge and momentum. Nonprofits that grow and make the greatest impact are those that effectively invest in the people who will push the mission forward.

Click here to download the full State of Good 2018 Report and get more Nonprofit insights.

Mistake 4:

“We dance only with the ones who brought us.”

Some organizations place exclusive fundraising focus on their current donors and people in their networks. And while it’s true that existing donors are more likely to give again, you can’t allow that to be your only growth strategy. That feels safe and expedient, but it’s actually fragile and short-sighted.

Better Approach:

“We love and appreciate our traditional base, but we’re always looking to broaden it.”

To quote Marshall Goldsmith: “What got you here won’t get you there.” Investigate readily available technology and form new relationships to lengthen your reach and grow your network.

Mistake 5:

“Leaders innovate. The staff executes.”

Every person on your team can be creative and should be treated that way. An innovation culture works best when everyone is considered a potential innovator, not just a select few who meet behind closed doors. In a healthy organization, the ideas and strategies become ours, not theirs.

Better Approach:

“What are you seeing? What am I missing?”

Good leaders ask good questions and then listen to their people. And they aren’t afraid of being questioned or challenged by similarly passionate staffers. In fact, they encourage it. People like to follow a humble leader, not an authoritarian know-it-all. Take the Howard Schultz (founder of Starbucks) approach of Management by Wandering Around. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll energize your people.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download the full State of Good 2018 Report and register for our upcoming State of Good Webinar where we’ll unpack all the new insights and how nonprofits should be responding.

12 simple, actionable, and effective tactics that can immediately lift your fundraising efforts.

State of Good 2018 is Here

Nonprofit leaders and practitioners take an honest look at the state of the nonprofit sector.

State of Good Webinar

Join Mike Rusch & Jesse Lane for a free webinar, unpacking the State of Good 2018 Report.

We’ll provide:

  • Top Nonprofit Challenges & Disruptions
  • Top Priorities for Nonprofits in 2018
  • 3 Recommendations for Every Nonprofit
  • Exclusive Access to a Nonprofit Health Checkup Tool​​​​​
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