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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Seven Key Skills of High Impact Nonprofit Leaders

Becoming a great nonprofit leader... what does it look like and how does one achieve it? The topic of leadership has been deliberated at great length. Books have been written and studies have been published, but the focus has primarily been on the private sector. And, let's face it: while there are similarities in the attributes needed in both the private and nonprofit sectors, there are also some distinct differences.

I've identified seven key areas of focus that are necessary to become a great nonprofit leader. I believe these attributes may be learned and practiced to produce a great leader — you don't have to be born with them to demonstrate great leadership! The seven key leadership competencies are:

Being clear on your mission and purpose as a leader means choosing to be part of an organization where you are passionate about the work. It's about being fully aligned with your organization with an unwavering commitment to its vision and mission.

Dedicating yourself to continuous learning is at the core of investing in yourself and others. Staying current on trends and insisting on creating work/life balance are also key components.

Thinking strategically involves partnering with a diverse mix of key stakeholders to determine the direction of the organization based on the current environment and what's possible. It's about flexing and adapting as opportunities arise or circumstances change, while at the same time insisting new initiatives are pursued because they fit with the mission and vision, not just because there's money available to support them.

Being an inspirational leader entails following through on commitments, acknowledging the contributions of others, addressing issues directly and judiciously, and living in integrity in every facet of your life.


Want more training to become a better leader?
Karen Ramsey can help!
Join her for High Impact Leadership (NMI 105).
Click here to register by this Wednesday, July 20 at 11:59 p.m.


Building strong relationships is critical to the success of a nonprofit organization, and it's one of the primary roles of a great leader. Looking for win/win opportunities and proactively collaborating with others in the community (as well as valuing diversity and focusing on providing excellent customer service) are all key elements.

Having the ability to share leadership is one of the most important components of being a great leader in the nonprofit sector. Sharing leadership is defined as recognizing the talents and abilities of others and appropriately delegating authority. It's having the ability to build a strong board and balance power, as well as being willing to take a secondary role when collaborating with other organizations.

And, finally, achieving results refers to ensuring the delivery of impactful, measurable outcomes, creating diverse sources of funding to ensure sustainability, and holding everyone (including yourself) accountable for fulfilling commitments.

Being a great leader in the nonprofit sector is an important quality, whether you run an organization or provide leadership to a specific department. You must be able to build and practice these skills to be an outstanding contributor to your organization.

Karen Ramsey is President & CEO of Lead for Good, a nonprofit organization dedicated to leadership development in the nonprofit sector. Look for her upcoming book entitled Lead for Good: Seven Steps for Unleashing the Great Nonprofit Leader Within which will be published in early 2012.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog