Top Skills Required to Effectively Lead an Organization

February 10, 2016
5 minutes

It takes more than just passion to lead and grow a nonprofit. Creativity, persistence, and a few nonprofit leadership skills will guide and support any organization's leadership and growth.

Without proper leadership, smaller nonprofits will never achieve their full potential. The organization will ultimately become stagnant and experience a chaotic environment that may not be recoverable if left unchecked long enough. It may reach a point where consequences may lead anywhere from disorganization to making ethical compromises.

Knowing if you are or are not a leader depends on your willingness to learn and practice leadership skills along the way. Examine the list below, and give yourself an honest assessment, find trusted colleagues to give you similar feedback and begin working on the skills you will need to improve upon.


Success is not by accident. It involves planning in order to reach your goals. Think about both long-term and short-term goals (a week, a month, a year, etc.) and the steps needed to reach them. In your plan, address the following; whose help you will need and what their (or your) responsibilities would be, the cost or budget needed, and how you will keep yourself accountable.

Leadership and planning go hand in hand. They offer an organization the appearance of stability.

Sharing your vision (public speaking)

Successful leaders will comfortably communicate their vision, either directly one on one or in a group setting. Especially where nonprofits are concerned, you will need to be able to articulate the particular need you're addressing in such a way that will move the listeners' hearts. Showing confidence in your vision and explaining why it matters will attract new supporters to your mission.

Build relationships

Nobody enjoys being the one that gets a call from an old friend or colleague whom they haven't heard from in a long time, only to discover the call is coming with a favor request. It feels manipulative and unfair.

People will help those they care about. It's all about the relationship. Investing time by sincerely getting to know them will create trust. Build on that trust, and you will find people will gladly reciprocate. We naturally nurture relationships organically, and to ask for a donation can seem uncomfortable. Provided your intentions are well-meaning and understood as such, your donor will respond in kind and deliver accordingly.

Number crunching

Telling your story using numbers is of critical importance. Do lives depend on the services you deliver? If so, how many? How many have you helped this year alone so far? What is the cost of delivering one unit of the service? It is vital that you become comfortable with the numbers and are able to confidently share and discuss them. You will need to be able to understand your nonprofit's basic financial statements. You don't need to become a financial whiz, but you will need to be able to explain your basic finances to a donor or potential beneficiary with confidence.

Time management

You will first need to learn how to manage your time, and second, learn how to say "no." Start with your strengths on the simple things first. Pick a period to shut off your email so as not to distract you while working on a particular task, for example. Outsource or automate whatever you can. Don't feel obligated to say yes, every time. You will burn yourself out. Nobody likes to feel like they hurt another person's feelings, but you need to guard your time—as no one else will do it for you.

Leading people

People look to you for leadership, inspiration, and guidance. Be prepared to paint the picture of what the future looks like for the organization. Part of being a good leader means setting the pace and then asking others to follow. On occasion, it may involve working side-by-side with your team or clearing a path for them to come along.


You will never grow your nonprofit to its greatest potential if you do everything yourself. There will simply be too much to do with little time to do it. Part of your leadership will involve learning to delegate. Give people tasks to perform and a deadline to have it completed. Take the time to explain to them why it is important (and how it will impact the organization if needed). Most people are eager to help out as long as they understand what it is that they need to accomplish. Giving clear direction and accountability is part of your leadership learning experience.

Caring for yourself

You will need to eat properly, exercise, and get enough rest. Most times, we all take it from granted, which seems to explain the many stressed out, tired, and unhealthy leaders out there. This is one area that only you can control, and you will need to give it proper attention. You cannot succeed if your body won't follow. Find out what works best for you, and definitely stick to it. This goes a long way to teaching yourself self-discipline and commitment to oneself.

Final thoughts

Good leadership skills are critical to growing a small nonprofit. If you are in a leadership role, whether you see yourself as one or not, you still need to be able to plan, organize, delegate, inspire, and more regardless. Your job now becomes growing to be the leader your nonprofit needs in order to succeed.

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