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“Leaders instil in their people a hope for success and a belief in themselves. Positive leaders empower people to accomplish their goals (unknown).”

Non-profit organisations that predominantly make up the Community Services Sector have traditionally struggled in different ways to deliver exceptional services, coupled with sound and effective business practices. This is often due to restricted access to required resources, which can be overwhelming for the wonderful people who work in these organisations. Therefore leadership, in the way people and organisations are led and managed at all levels, becomes one of, if not the most important factor for furthering the beneficial services of this sector. However, there are certain sector specific challenges that makes leadership more onerous, hence the need for better leaders, but also the need to rethink some current approaches to this dilemma.

The four most challenging aspects of leading non-profits are:

Doing more with less:
Non-profits can and do utilise the following sources of income to help them fulfil their goals;

  • Fees for goods and/or services
  • Individual donations and major gifts
  • Bequests
  • Corporate contributions
  • Foundation grants
  • Government grants and contracts
  • Interest from investments
  • Loans/program-related investments
  • Tax revenue
  • Membership dues and fees

Financial resourcing is probably the most common issue hindering service effectiveness and there are two aspects to this dilemma. The first is the appropriate and effective utilisation of scarce funding. Managing, allocating, monitoring and reporting on expenditure requires good leadership and managerial practices, through properly thought out and implemented systems, policies, procedures and the like. The second is attracting funding through donations, grants, etc. Funding from these sources has become harder to secure as the proliferation of organisations in need continues to stretch donation capacity, whilst donors themselves are becoming more sceptical or fiscally restrained. Non-profits require leaders who can influence funding sources, inspire and build great charity networks, as well as demonstrating the fiscal leadership to instil donor confidence.

Values based vocation

Motivating employees by connecting organisational goals to employees’ personal values is critical within this sector. Values-based leaders communicate organisational values that tell members how to behave in order to fulfil the organisation’s mission. They talk about these values in a way that connects with employees’ personal values, so that employees come to identify strongly with both the organisation and its mission.

Such leaders focus on core values – the enduring guiding principles that capture the organisation’s strengths and character. Because the core values represent the soul of the organisation, they are likely to remain steadfast in the face of changing market trends and fads.

For employees to believe in the sincerity and depth of the organisation’s values, the leaders themselves must lead by example and communicate the values on an ongoing basis to the entire workforce. The values’ effectiveness lies in how well they are embodied by the leaders and organisation as a whole.

Little “l” leadership

Little “l” leadership focuses on relationship-building behaviours not the “hero” style of leadership behaviours dominant in many larger corporates. Little “l” leadership doesn’t come with the big rewards or accolades, it’s all about the small and meaningful interpersonal interactions that values-based individuals need, grounded on trust, mutual respect, loyalty, inclusion, and generosity.

The higher motivation experienced by employees in high quality relationships was found to be linked to increased commitment, fewer thoughts about leaving or looking for other jobs and a greater sense of job satisfaction. In essence, the relationship between a leader and employee impacts on a range of employee attitudes about work. High quality leader-follower relationships are linked with happier, more satisfied employees and potentially lower turnover within an organisation. Critical for organisations at the lower end of the employee remuneration scale.

Working with volunteers

Volunteer leadership proposes certain challenges for individuals who take on the task of leading people who are doing work they choose, often in their spare time, and without pay. They cannot be asked to do work they do not want to do, they will not do well with negative feedback, and have no reason to stay if their emotional commitment is severed. Those who lead volunteers must have the authority and leadership approach necessary to provide these emotional rewards. Because volunteers have different motivations, the volunteer leader needs to understand that the psychological needs of affiliation, achievement, and power are what drives the volunteer. These needs are not prioritised the same by all volunteers and so, it is important to not take any one for granted and the volunteer leader must realise the agenda of the volunteer is different from those of normal employees.

Non-profit – Community Sector organisations that value helping people are the mainstay of a healthy-caring community. As described, leading within these organisations comes with its own set of challenges and requires an exceptional calibre of leader to successfully traverse the community sector landscape. Attracting and retaining great leaders continues to be problematic, especially when competing against financially richer enterprises.

In my opinion, developing leaders from within the non-profit sector should be a first option. Well-thought-out, early investment in non-profit leadership development programs in time, would not only help to address the issues raised above, but also ensure the delivery of better longer-term solutions and business services. Although not instant, the return on investment for a whole of sector leadership development approach would rationalise limited training resources. Building a skilled and connected cohort of industry specific leaders, who working together in a more integrated and harmonious way can provide improved results for communities often in desperate need of more effective services.

Ed Benier

Ed Benier

Ed is a director at Modal and delivers leadership solutions that create sustainable, positive behaviour change, with the focus on achieving a “leadership culture” within organisations.