Wanted: Nonprofit CEOs with Entrepreneurial People Skills
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
The need for superior leadership skills is as critical to CEOs in nonprofits as it is in the entrepreneurial world. Following are four such skills and the unique challenges they bring when employed in the nonprofit environment.
- The CEO’s Power of Persuasion
A nonprofit CEO and the board must take the lead in creating the organization’s mission, vision and values. However, since the board majority is usually composed of volunteers who are seldom involved in the day-to-day implementation of the organization’s mission, it becomes the responsibility of the CEO to present viable options for the future — and then to effectively share the board-approved “vision” with three discrete audiences: the board, professional staff and other stakeholders. But…
Board members, in the roles as part-time overseers, often do not have the time to critically evaluate alternatives when presented, particularly if a revised mission is under consideration.
Nonprofit staffs tend to be conservative, especially when change may jeopardize their positions. (e.g. “Don’t change the program, the position that may be dropped can be yours!”)
And foundations, donors, and supporters, who are possibly considering funding requests from other nonprofits, need to be approached by a CEO who is equipped with outstanding people skills.
While business organizations have somewhat similar challenges, obviously their revenue sources are not dependent on financial gifts.
- The Right Hires
Just as in business, the process of judicious hiring endlessly challenges a nonprofit CEO. Nonprofit salary levels are simply not competitive with those of established commercial organizations, especially in the area of hard-to-find skills such as finance or IT. But these challenges can be overcome! I have seen nonprofit CEOs develop a collegial working atmosphere in their search for employees, resulting in new personnel who are not only dedicated to the mission but feel encouraged to exercise their own creative potential.
- Face of the Organization
The nonprofit CEO, like his entrepreneurial business counterpart, must be the top marketing executive who is the face of the organization. While board members can assist with promotion, CEOs are the leaders to whom stakeholders and employees look to promote the organization’s impacts. Alternatively, they must take the blame for failures. No longer should a nonprofit CEO be able to use the old excuse with a failed program, “The board forced me to take the action.” But to shepherd an entrepreneurial CEO, the board needs to be able to tolerate some failures as long as they were based on reasonable “business judgment.” No one does their job with unfettered perfection.
- Growing the Organization
If a nonprofit decides to expand the scope of the organization, the skill sets needed in a CEO are quite different from those needed to maintain a status quo operation. Rarely can the executive who simply “minds the store” adjust to the complexities of the new environment and must be replaced or moved elsewhere. A nonprofit’s commitment to expansion is both exciting and terrifying. In any case, it demands a nonprofit CEO who, in partnership with a supportive board, can handle the requisite financial development and continual networking with stakeholders.