Managing Nonprofit Employees
Once you have a great team on board, how do you inspire, lead,
and manage them to achieve all that they are capable of? Managing in a
nonprofit environment is an art comprising some for-profit techniques,
some personal development on the part of the manager, and some good,
solid common sense. The challenge and the opportunity of being a man-
ager lies in the fact that we do this job in a constantly changing environ-
ment: people, situations, and outside forces can change on a dime and
our employees look to us for consistent leadership through it all.
Unfortunately, many nonprofit workers have fallen into manage-
ment roles without giving much thought to what that responsibility
entails. Or, as is increasingly common today, other nonprofit managers
come from for-profit backgrounds and have not adapted their style and
skills to the nonprofit environment. Fortunately, management is a skill
that can be taught, learned, and improved. The only prerequisite is a
desire to improve.
Over the years, through my work and observations of staff members at
all levels, I have found that one of the most powerful ways to lead is by
example. No matter what the size or mission of your organization, you
cannot expect others to do what you are not willing to do yourself. And
your attitude sets the tone—positively or negatively—for the people
you manage. This does not mean that you have to be a superhero and
always be perfect. It means that the more attention you pay to your own
personal and professional development as a leader, the better your
team will be.
Leading—whether you currently have direct management oversight
of other people or you aspire to that type of position—means modeling
the behaviors you want your team members to have. According to Bill
George, author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership,
“[Authentic leaders] lead with their whole selves—their hearts as well
as their heads. They don’t get pulled off course by seductions and pres-
sures. Every leader who has failed, that I’ve seen, has not failed to lead
other people, they’ve failed to lead themselves.
Recommended Resource
True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, by Bill
George, with Peter Sims (Jossey-Bass, 2007).
Leading by example includes several important elements of inspir-
ing and managing others. Here are the characteristics nonprofit man-
agers need to cultivate and display:
Passion. The more passionate you are about the mission of your
organization and the work that you are accomplishing, the more
other people will be inspired to feel the same way. Passion is con-
tagious. People can see it, feel it, and perhaps even taste it. They
want to see passion and energy on the part of their leaders and
coworkers, particularly in nonprofits because they are focused on
a cause. Passion can give employees and colleagues a sense of
urgency that is required to make difficult decisions and constantly
raise standards. Don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm and share
your excitement or frustration about issues affecting your organiza-
tion or cause.
Approachability. In busy, understaffed nonprofits it is too easy for
workers to bury their heads in work and not take time to talk to the
144 Cass Wheeler

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