What Makes an Effective Nonprofit Leader?

Andrew VaethNonprofit Collaboration

Many nonprofit leaders are similar in personality and management approach. However, they often struggle to retain the resources to keep volunteers and donors engaged. One by one, people lose sight of the organization’s overarching mission.

These common obstacles can be avoided by adopting uncommon leadership traits. We’ve defined they key characteristics of an effective nonprofit leader, and how they differ from what you may expect.


Effective nonprofit leaders are business-minded and have an entrepreneurial spirit. They’re driven by the organization’s mission to create change through outcomes and performance metrics. Individuals with this forward way of thinking aren’t afraid to take risks and disrupt the market.

In today’s world, nonprofits compete for a limited number of grants, donors and volunteers. In order for nonprofits to grow and prosper, effective leaders think strategically and utilize an entrepreneurial approach to foster collaboration and build networks, accessing all necessary resources. They implement basic business practices into day-to-day operations.


Effective nonprofit leaders mimic the for-profit world. They’re thirsty for knowledge and gravitate towards successful people. They aren’t afraid to emulate others and seek outside support for inspiration.

Effective leaders seek advice; they ask questions. The best nonprofit leaders create change because they know they can’t do it all by themselves.


Effective nonprofit leaders are confident, ambitious, and motivated, which is essential for identifying opportunities. They have a strong sense of their primary values, yet acknowledge feedback for the success of the organization. They’re also able to effectively communicate with team members and donors, which results in strong, lasting relationships.

In order to achieve the desired results, a nonprofit leader must be forthright, even if it’s outside of their comfort zone to do so.


Effective nonprofit leaders are dynamic. They’re trend-focused and embrace change. They’re able to recognize problem areas and adjust accordingly. Dynamic leaders are proactive and efficient. They never stop learning, which is beneficial to the growth of the nonprofit.

Reluctance to adopt new technology and business practices can hinder the success of an organization. To be an effective nonprofit leader you must be bold; push past the commonplace. If you’re able to do that, you’ll create an adaptable organization that responds well to change.

The key to effective nonprofit leadership may not be the personality traits you’d expect. But, by thinking beyond what most nonprofits are comfortable with, your leadership skills and organization will thrive.

For more information about effective nonprofit leadership, check out our recent blog post, Think Selfishly: The Unexpected Key to Nonprofit Success, or subscribe to our blog for more information.