By MichaelaThursday, December 28th, 2006
Every nonprofit leader, in order to succeed, must possess four essential skills.
These are not, despite what might first pop into your mind, personal solicitation, foundation grant-writing, annual appeal writing, and, when all else fails, begging.
Fundraising skills, and others such as financial management, collaboration, human resources management, and working with a board, are of course important. But they are secondary to the big four. Here they are, in my humble opinion:
People skills: Everything a nonprofit leader does involves working with people. Staff, volunteers, board members, funders, clients, advisors, and vendors all have in common the fact that they view their relationship with the organization through the lens of their relationship with you. Respect, compassion, competence, collaboration, and similar values will help you to succeed. Being difficult, sullen, uninterested, sarcastic, or uninspiring will only hurt your ability to get the job done. People skills are, in large part, about your integrity and authenticity.
Vision: A nonprofit leader must be able to see with crystal clarity where s/he wants and needs to take the organization, and then be able to set in place the structures, find the resources, and build the team to get there. Without execution, a vision is just a daydream.
Communication: It is critical to be able to explain where you are going, or why you have made a difficult or unpopular decision. So, too, is the ability to listen to others, take in what they are saying, and respond to it. This is different from “people skills.” It is the specific ability to exchange information and emotion with others, to be believable and authentic while doing so, and to be able to persuade others to join you.
Reality Testing: Nothing is more fatal to a nonprofit than a leader who cannot or will not see what Jim Collins calls “the brutal facts.” Without knowing where all the problems are, and absent a clear grasp of your current situation, you cannot lead.