In 100% of cases, a charity is founded and led through the early days by someone with a sincere desire to improve outcomes for a vulnerable social group, and the solution on how to do it.
As the charity grows, whether the founder remains the most suitable person to meet the diverse needs of running a not-for-profit is a different story.
In the not-for-profit sector, a successful leader possesses the perfect blend of traditional leadership qualities combined with a passion and heart to make a significant difference in society.
Whether you’re about to launch a charity, you’re looking to employ a charity leader, or you want to upskill as a charity leader, here are some qualities that make someone suitable to take the reigns and lead a charity to success:
For a charity leader, nothing is impossible.
A charity leader has identified the problem, implemented the solution which has likely never been done before.
A visionary leader is one who can focus on the end goal rather than the hurdles they will inevitably face, and not stop moving towards the next best outcome until it’s achieved.
A charity leader will take inspiration for their vision from those around them both in their immediate community and globally.
A progressive leader is one who can move a charity forward in line with the ever-changing demands of the organisation, the donors, and the technology available.
While a leader may find a solution that works and stick with it, a charity leader understands that there are always better solutions, more advanced systems and a more effective approach to solving problems.
While systems may be efficient at the time, the progressive leader knows that nothing is set in concrete and a better way to do things is always just around the corner.
A progressive approach also applies to implementing fundraising-focussed systems such as SupporterHub which can help evolve processes to meet the unique and ever-changing needs of a charity within the confines of an often-stretched budget.
The not-for-profit sector is a notoriously fast-paced, high-stress environment. With budgets often tight, the charity leader must focus on solutions rather than the problems faced and doesn’t waste any time dwelling on the obstacles that can potentially keep the organisation from moving forward.
Empathy is an essential quality for the not-for-profit leader. Empathy for staff, empathy for the cause, and empathy for the charity’s biggest supporters; the donors.
Leading a charity requires making some tough decisions, but it’s vital the charity leader can make them while never losing sight of the heart and soul of the cause and those who are giving everything to support the mission.
Focus on teamwork
A charity leader knows that there’s no single person responsible for helping a charity reach its mission and every success is a team effort.
Each member of the team plays an important role and achievements aren’t ever a solo celebration with every team member’s contribution recognised.
Recognise the power of data and reporting
A charity is only as successful as its next campaign and sophisticated data and reporting capabilities must be an ongoing focus.
Not-for-profit is a traditionally emotionally-driven sector, but a successful charity leader must respect and utilise data to its best capacity. Team KPI’s, growth of income, budgets and donor data cannot be overlooked and must form a significant part of an ongoing strategy.
A charity leader is unlikely to excel in their role if they fail to recognise the importance of data and reporting.
There’s no denying that the duties required to lead a not-for-profit extend well beyond the realms of a regular 9-5 role.
From the outset and beyond, there will be long, often-unsociable hours, challenges to overcome and a need to put the organisation first.
While all businesses have a core mission, the commitment to the charity’s mission is what drives a not-for-profit leader. It’s the mission that pushes them through the tiredness, the long days, the weekend work and the budgetary constraints that can make it challenging to move forward.
The charity leader lives and breathes their mission and makes often-tough decisions based on their passion and dedication to a cause that’s bigger than themselves.
Commitment to professional development
Best practice in professional fundraising continues to evolve taking inspiration from across the globe. Fundraisers are unique in that they’re happy to share their successes with other charities and the creativity associated with the sector means that professional development in fundraising is essential to help to engage the donor and support the growth of the charity.
While many of the skills intermingle with corporate leadership, a charity leader needs specific qualities to make difficult decisions that promote the growth of the charity without losing focus on the core heart of those who support the charity; the donors, volunteers, community, and, most importantly, the staff.