Is Leadership a Person?

For many nonprofit organizations, the thrill of getting organized and started soon changes to keeping the doors open for the long term. Creating a sustainable program of activity and fundraising necessary to do to deliver the mission as an ongoing concern. Generally it is nonprofit founders who bring the vision and raw enthusiasm to getting the organization started, pursuing the right tax status and getting the organization up and running.
After the initial excitement, the road towards the future can seem dotted with boring stuff like making sure all donations are acknowledged and thanked, the next fundraising project needs to be designed and produced, tax forms need to be filed. Sometimes the ‘fun’ is hard to see, and the planning for what must come next gets murky, and the enthusiasm diminished.

What does Leadership Look Like?

When these times come, it is natural to look for a new spark, new energy and perhaps more sophisticated skills to take the organization to its next level past start -up. Is that new board members, is it new staff, is it changes to the nonprofit organization itself? There is often a default idea that by replacing the chief of staff, the executive director, that all the problems of the organization can be addressed, if not solved. That new person, with years of industry experience, a hot rolodex of previous donors will come in an single handedly ‘fix’ what is wrong and create dramatic new landscapes for the future.

Nice Idea- does it work?

While it is tempting to see if some one other person can do the heavy lifting, in fact leadership, and especially leadership in a nonprofit organization must be more than one person who gives good phone. The skill set that includes management skills, planning skills, understanding revenue and advocacy, addressing the care and feeding of the various constituencies can indeed be in one person; there are many talented and dynamic leaders. However leadership is not that one person, it is the combined vision of the board members, the staff and the population to be included. No one person can have the full responsibility for seeing urgency, pathways, and opportunities. No one person can be expected to reflect the differing goals and methods needed to create the best impact, the optimal income and results.

Leadership is collaboration, and while hiring the best leader for the nonprofit organization can be filed under ‘duh’, it is imperative to remember that one person must lead in context. Leadership is knowledge, action, integrity and courage- and it is not done alone.