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Business Skill Checklist for Non-Profit Leadership

stock_student8What are the business skills that are most valuable to non-profits? Taught in business schools and honed in traditional careers, the following skills are must-haves for today’s non-profit leader.

Strategy. The ability to create a vision and line up objectives and resources to back that up is essential if a non-profit is going to grow. Capabilities around strategic growth encompass strategy, organizational design, culture, and how to identify opportunities and threats. Non-profit leaders need to be able to think about the long-term implications of their actions.

Leadership. If the goal of the non-profit is to affect long-term change, strong leadership is essential, as is planning for leadership succession.

Marketing. Good marketing is essential for non-profits to attract both donors and clients in an environment where there are an infinite number of choices. Non-profits need to know how to build their profile in the community so they can raise money, and that means they need a broader picture of marketing than just placing ads and sending news releases.

Entrepreneurship. Since most non-profits are smaller operations where every employee wears multiple hats, a leader’s broad experience in a variety of roles proves extremely valuable. Knowing how to handle changeable situations and resource constraints is also a plus in the non-market environments that many non-profits are subject to.

Human Resources Management. Non-profits often deal with a host of clients, volunteers, and professional organizations. HR-type knowledge and soft skills that allow leaders to build consensus, connect with, and learn from people are invaluable.

Finance. While they may not be dealing with multi-million or -billion dollar budgets, non-profit leaders need to be conversant with finance. They need to have a comfort level with the fiscal side of the operation, an understanding of fundraising, and how to work with budgets. Leaders who are former business practitioners have a sense of rigor and accountability that can be a great asset to a non-profit.

Information Systems. Since data points and resources are less available for non-profits than they are in the for-profit world, leaders will find themselves having to develop their own information systems and understand how to turn data into usable and actionable information.

Communication. Non-profits and businesses speak different languages. A businessperson who transitions to lead a non-profit can bridge that communication gap, meeting expectations better and building stronger relationships with donors (who are often from the world of business) and other constituents.

Gleaned by Pam Losefsky from interviews with Richard Laine, Meg Brooks Swift, Liz Howard, Kathleen Yazback-Chartier, and Ellen Glazerman.

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