Nonprofit organization leadership versus management are terms often confused by staff and organization board members by Dr. Rudolph Rosen
There can be confusion about nonprofit organization leadership versus management of organizations, as I hear people talk about improving effectiveness of nonprofits. The terms are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings in the context of building effective organizations and staff/volunteer teams.
Simply put: leaders lead and managers manage.
The leader focuses on people, vision, mission, and strategy, while the manager focuses on operations, processes, actions, and activities.
Truly effective top leaders usually present a mix of skill and experience, with such leaders also having strong diverse management skills and competencies that cover the range of an organization’s mission-critical jobs.
A manager — even a top manager — may be effective while only having a narrow range of skills and competencies. I say “may be,” because while a manager may be effective simply managing tasks, they will probably be even more effective if they also have the skills to truly lead the people performing those tasks, as well as understand how those tasks fit into the organization’s pursuit of its mission.
What I see often in organizations are groups of quite competent people performing tasks competently, but who are working incompetently as a team because they have no other option. They may not really understand or embrace the mission. They may be waiting on decisions that never come, confused by the organization’s priorities or lack of priorities, siloed by poor communication or internal controls, beleaguered by bureaucracy, and so on. All these are leadership problems and generally can be easily corrected.
Nonprofit organization leadership capacity must be built organization-wide, turning staff with good task management skills into staff with good leadership skills as well. That includes building Nonprofit organization leadership at the board level if necessary to help empower the organization.
How do you do all this? I suggest start by making sure everyone knows the mission and buys into it. That may include a consensus-driven definition of the mission if clarity is lacking. After that, staff (and volunteers) need to be unified in pursuit of the mission and embrace the idea that all are ultimately affected by everything the organization does, so they need to take personal responsibility to make sure that everything the organization does is done well. For example, everyone must take responsibility for excellent customer/member service when the occasion arises, regardless of one’s own job title.
The same goes for communication, outreach, fundraising, education, and on. If the occasion arises to reach out or to educate someone or some group, whether it be children or community leaders, staff and volunteers need to be empowered to speak with confidence. To enable this to happen staff and volunteers must share a common vision and a common message so all are confident in knowing what to say. Ensuring all staff and volunteers share a consistent message and vision, by the way, is something effective leaders of an organization just do.
I have found success comes through Nonprofit organization leadership that creates an organization filled with competent managers who are also good leaders of people and who are fully engaged in helping create the organization’s vision and strategy to make that vision a reality.
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(c) Rudolph Rosen 2015
Rudolph Rosen is author of the book, Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising a peer-reviewed textbook on fundraising management and increasing fundraising success through effective business management and volunteer and staff empowerment and training.