7 Essential Nonprofit Management Skills and Development Tips

As the end of the pandemic has brought about new hope for nonprofit organizations everywhere, professionals have set their sights on the future, excited to continue growing and developing their organization. 

As a professional in the nonprofit space, you understand that the best way to grow and develop your organization is by investing in your staff members.

It has long been debated whether leaders are born or if they can be taught to lead. The truth is that individuals can be trained in nonprofit management skills to become better leaders at your organization if they’re provided with the right development opportunities. This is the key to continuous growth in your organization. 

At The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, we pride ourselves on providing educational resources that nonprofit professionals like yourself need to provide new organizational opportunities and personal development. We’ve provided learning opportunities for professionals to develop essential sector-specific skills and have helped over 11,000 professionals become certified in the nonprofit field. 

We’ve developed this guide to cover some of the common nonprofit management skills that you can (and should) develop as a leader in your own organization. In this article, we’ll discuss the following skills as well as opportunities and advice to improve those skills:

  1. Public Speaking
  2. Communications
  3. Relationship-Building
  4. Strategic Planning
  5. Delegation
  6. Budget Allocation
  7. Problem-Solving

Developing nonprofit management skills is essential for creating new leaders at your organization and making growth opportunities possible. This guide is only the beginning for professional growth. Once you know what skills will be most helpful to develop, you’ll need to get to work training your team to grow into the leaders they can be. 

Start by investing in yourself. Getting certified in the nonprofit sector makes it seven times more likely that nonprofit professionals will reach the director level or higher. By investing their time and energy into gaining the necessary skills, certified professionals have set themselves up for success in the nonprofit field. Let’s dive in to cover the most important nonprofit management skills that professionals like you should continuously learn to enhance your career. 

Nonprofit Management Skill #1: Public Speaking

Did you know that 73% of people are afraid of public speaking? For many, this fear has been linked to the idea that the audience is judging the speaker’s words and presence as a leader. 

Although you might count yourself among the percentage of people that fear public speaking, it’s an essential skill required for communicating your organization’s mission and vision. 

Whether you’re speaking up in an internal meeting among your colleagues or giving a presentation to an auditorium full of strangers, effective public speaking skills allow you to articulate your organization’s mission, your community’s needs, your plans to achieve your mission, and how your supporters can get involved. 

Practice is the best way to both overcome your fear of public speaking and improve your presentation skills. The following ideas provide practice opportunities for individuals like yourself: 

  • Take an educational course on public speaking best practices. Look for a course specific to the nonprofit sector that covers tips and tricks for public speaking opportunities. Then, take advantage of opportunities to practice what you learn. Little tips and tricks like avoiding filler words and making eye contact with your audience can make a huge difference in your public speaking abilities.
  • Create regular, low-stakes practice opportunities. Try hosting a weekly public speaking activity at your organization, giving your staff members an opportunity to stand up and talk about topics that are intriguing and important to them. Not only will you get to learn about your staff members’ hobbies and interests, but you’ll also be able to provide feedback to improve their public speaking skills. 
  • Ask for feedback regarding your presentation skills. When you give a presentation, no matter how high or low the stakes are, be sure to ask for feedback from someone you trust. Write this feedback down so that you can track your progress with public speaking over time. 

Public speaking has also evolved to incorporate technology over the last year due to the shift to remote work environments. Even as vaccines are rolled out and in-person interactions become more commonplace, we can still anticipate increased use of online conferencing tools like Zoom than we had experienced before the pandemic. 

To account for this development, make sure to practice public speaking both in-person and online so that you develop the skills for both platforms. For instance, in-person, you’ll want to keep looking up and surveying your audience. Meanwhile, virtually, you can lean more heavily on a slideshow presentation but will need to practice using the digital tools at your disposal to answer questions. 

Nonprofit Management Skill #2: Communications

As a nonprofit professional, your communication skills are essential for motivating your staff members, exchanging ideas with your board members, discussing key issues with your stakeholders, and connecting with your supporters. 

Here are just a few of the different areas of nonprofit communication that are necessary for professionals to develop their skills in: 

  • Adaptable written communications. Your written communications are used to reach your supporters, deliberate with colleagues, appeal to grant funders, and discuss your goals with sponsors. Adapting your written communication strategies will help you make an impact with different audiences every time. 
  • Storytelling strategies. Storytelling is essential for effective marketing campaigns. Whenever you reach out to external audiences, make sure to tell the story of your organization and its impact on the community. 
  • Social media prowess. Social media is no longer optional for nonprofits. Be sure you understand who you can reach on various social media channels and the best ways to reach them in order to make the most of each platform. 
  • Conversation skills. As a leader at your organization, you’ll be in discussions with a number of people regarding your campaigns, projects, and programs. Evaluate the flow of your conversation to make everyone as comfortable as possible and get more out of these discussions. 

You might develop these skills by first investing in a nonprofit course. But, ultimately, practice is the best way to continuously develop your communication skills. 

Effective communication requires some underlying knowledge about who your audience is, why you’re speaking with them, and when you will reach out to converse with them. Be sure to identify all of these elements for each message or discussion. Doing so will help create impactful messages and build relationships. 

Nonprofit Management Skill #3: Relationship-Building

One of the most vital nonprofit management skills that organization leaders can develop is relationship-building. When you’re able to build relationships with supporters and sponsors, you’ll create both sustainable funding opportunities and a solid foundation of support for your organization. 

Relationship-building is the backbone of supporter (and employee) retention. Instead of constantly facing expensive turnover for your organization’s fundraising efforts, you can retain your supporters for years, build relationships, and increase the lifetime value of each contributor. 

Communication skills play heavily into your relationship-building skills. Be sure you’re able to effectively: 

  • Mingle and network when appropriate. Look for opportunities to start conversations with your supporters and stakeholders. For instance, events provide a great platform to start conversations and create personal connections with various people at your organization. 
  • Personalize conversations. Whether you’re having a face-to-face conversation or writing an email, each one of your outreach messages should contain personal information to show recipients that they’re unique and matter personally to your organization. This means addressing them by name, mentioning historical interactions with your organization, and referencing their interests when appropriate. 
  • Show appreciation for support. When someone takes notice of your organization and feels strongly about your mission, they’ll reach out to help by donating, volunteering, or attending an event to learn more. These supporters feel good about contributing to your cause, but they feel even better when their efforts are recognized. So be sure to say thank you!

By building relationships with your supporters and stakeholders, you build their trust in your organization. This trust is essential for raising funds, growing support, and increasing your presence in your community. 

Nonprofit Management Skill #4: Strategic Planning

It’s one thing to develop a vision for your organization. However, developing a plan to make that vision possible is another. You need to not only visualize your organization’s future but also need to break down the specific steps that will get you there. 

Strategic plans discuss more than the philanthropic initiatives that you want to achieve. When you craft your plan, take a dive deep into the skills and talents of each person in your organization. Then, you can determine who will help do what and when you can make your mission possible. 

To create a more impactful strategic plan, you should further develop management skills that allow you to identify the path to achieving a goal. For instance, you’ll need to develop the skills necessary to: 

  • Analyze the personnel at your organization. Relationships with your staff members will help you determine who’s available to take on various projects and how their skills will make a difference in that particular project.
  • Understand what goes into each project. Understanding what resources, time, and skills that go into planning an event or completing a project will help you determine who can accomplish various tasks in your greater strategic plan. 
  • Determine the goals and objectives that you want to achieve. Create success metrics that will determine if each of the projects in your strategic plan has been successfully completed. For instance, you might determine that the adoption event for a dog shelter is successful when 30 animals have been adopted.

Your nonprofit’s strategic plan isn’t a one-and-done document. You should check this resource regularly to stay on track and hold yourself accountable. 

In order to create a well-designed strategic plan, you’ll need background knowledge about not only your organization but also how the sector as a whole operates. Obtaining certification or taking courses that will help you develop this background knowledge is key to writing an effective plan.

Nonprofit Management Skill #5: Delegation

Growing as an organization requires delegating some aspects of leadership down the chain of command. This not only frees up some of your time but also provides growth opportunities to other members of your organization. 

When you delegate a task, here are the key steps to keep in mind: 

  • Determine exactly what projects and activities can be delegated. If you’ve found yourself short on time, try listing out the activities that you’re involved with. Then, consider which of these activities you might be able to pass off to another member of your organization. 
  • Identify the best person to take on the project or activity being delegated. Carefully choose the next person to take on the delegated responsibility. Those who have expressed interest in the activity are usually the best choice because they’re already motivated to complete the task and do it well. If no one has expressed interest, you might choose someone who has shown an aptitude for the skills required to complete the task. 
  • Define exactly what’s expected of the individual in the delegation process. Think through each of the steps needed to complete the activity. Then, write down each of these steps, getting as specific as possible so your staff member has detailed instructions to get started. 
  • Come up with success metrics for the project. Consider what would define success for the activity you’re delegating. Then, express that success metric to the new task owner, providing them with a goal to shoot for. 

Consider, for example, if you wanted to delegate the responsibility of hosting a pet adoption event for an animal shelter. Let’s walk through the steps together: 

  1. You have other event planning responsibilities at your organization. After reviewing your other tasks, you determine that since this one is pretty well established it’s the best project to delegate down the hierarchy of personnel. 
  2. You decide to delegate the project to Jenna. She has attended and volunteered at this event for your organization for the last three years. Plus, she’s asked for greater responsibilities in your organization’s event planning activities. 
  3. When you’re planning the event, you know that you take several specific steps, so you write down the following for Jenna to review:
    1. Set goals for the event, usually a specific number of animals to be adopted, a certain number of attendees, and fundraising revenue. 
    2. Call and book the event venue, choosing the time and space well in advance. 
    3. Determine the theme of the event and the decor that will represent that theme. 
    4. Promote the event among your supporters, sending emails, invitations, and flyers to past and prospective donors and interested parties. 
  4. Finally, you determine that the metric that defines success for this delegation is when the organization reaches or surpasses the number of animals adopted.

When you choose the right person to take over a project at your organization, you may even find that they do it better! Your staff members might bring a new perspective to the project you give them, making it better than when you did it yourself. 

Leaders should be effective delegators in any organization. By developing this nonprofit management skill, you’ll find that you’re able to help your staff members grow, take on new projects yourself, and make existing projects even more efficient. 

Nonprofit Management Skill #6: Budget Allocation

Nonprofits frequently have to accomplish a lot of work with limited resources at their disposal. As a leader at your organization, effective allocation and intentional use of resources will help you grow and sustain your nonprofit. 

While some professionals might assume it’s the accounting team’s responsibility to budget and allocate resources, including your leadership in budgeting decisions ensures everyone is in agreement on how to allocate funds.

When you don’t have this skill well-developed, your budget allocation is more likely to be off-center and prioritized not emphasized. This can lead to more expenses both now and down the line. Meanwhile, to develop this important management skill, you will need to practice:

  • Determining the resources at your disposal. Make sure you have your resources accounted for in your accounting system. Doing so ensures you will know which funds are unrestricted and available at your disposal. 
  • Aligning budgeted resources with philanthropic initiatives. Determine which of your funds are restricted to various projects and what is free to allocate according to the highest demand. Then, tie back all of the resources you allocate to specific initiatives. Even when you allocate resources to overhead expenses, you should still be able to discuss how that investment will result in a more efficiently run organization. 
  • Checking your budget regularly to ensure everything is on track. Just like your strategic plan isn’t complete after you’ve written it, your budget also evolves as your organization grows, so be sure to keep an eye on your budgeted resources. Check in every month or so to be sure you’re on track. 

While you might work with an accountant or bookkeeper to help allocate your resources, being able to budget and allocate your funds will make it easier to prioritize initiatives and make realistic operational decisions moving forward.

Nonprofit Management Skill #7: Problem-Solving

While we all wish that nonprofit management could always be smooth sailing, problems can and do come up. Successful leaders have the ability to take these issues in stride, react rationally, and determine solutions. 

Developing problem-solving skills requires having problems. After a while, you’ll learn how to avoid repeating the problems you’ve already encountered, constantly decreasing their prevalence in your organization. If you find that problems are occurring too frequently, there may be some deeper issues in your organization. 

However, even if you’re not encountering any current issues, you can flex your problem-solving muscles by creating contingency plans to prepare for the worst in various hypothetical situations. 

Whether you’re creating a contingency plan or reacting to an emergency situation that came up at your organization, here are the steps that nonprofit professionals such as yourself can take to practice problem-solving: 

  • Identify and define the problem. Identify the problem at hand and define why it’s an issue. What is it costing the organization? What are the risks involved? When you identify these issues, write them down so that you know how to react if it comes up again. 
  • Determine potential solutions. Only after you’ve considered the issue in its entirety can you start weighing potential solutions. Don’t jump into the first solution that pops into your head. Instead, list out all of the possible solutions that could solve the problem. 
  • Choose the best solution. Ultimately, the best solutions will be those that are not only good for the current situation but build lasting solutions rather than temporary fixes. 
  • Look for lessons learned. After the solution has been implemented, reflect on what’s happened. Take note of any takeaways or lessons learned that you can keep in mind to prevent this type of issue from occurring again in the future. 

Problem-solving can be stressful! But issues occur at every company or organization. Allow yourself to slow down, analyze an issue, and determine the best path forward to make sure your resolutions both fix current issues and resolve potential future problems. 

This article was published in Nonprofit Leadership Alliance

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