The non-profit landscape is changing. According to the 2016 Non-profit Trends Report, this industry is growing at a rapid rate. But what non-profit leaders need today, is different then 10 years ago.  Leaders will be dealing with new challenges and those new challenges will demand new skills and talents.

Do you have what it takes to successfully lead a non-profit in today’s climate? We’ve compiled a list of the top 12 characteristics of successful non-profit leaders. How many of these traits can you comfortably say you display on a regular basis? Are there others you feel contribute to the success and impact of a non-profit? What would you add?

12 Characteristics of Effective Non-profit Leaders

Lead with Integrity / Consistency

Do you act and serve with a commitment to fairness, honesty, and transparency? Are you doing it the same way all the time, not just when it is convenient?

Strong Communicators

Do you have strong one-on-one communication skills? Do you have the ability to tell your agency’s story effectively in public presentations, usually through story-telling? Do you have the ability to effectively make “the ask” when talking to supporters and would-be supporters? Do you display openness and transparency with the board?

Have Personal Strength

Do you have the willingness to confront poor performers or those not meeting agreed upon expectations and/or provide ways for them to improve? Are you comfortable saying no to ideas when they should be rejected, regardless of how well intended they are? Are you willing to make the tough call, including important decisions, when not all the information is available—recognizing that all information never is or will be available?

Focused on the Mission

Can you keep the team, staff, and board, strictly adhering to the agency’s mission and vision, and avoid mission “creep”?

Commitment to Core Values

Do you demonstrate a commitment to living and enforcing the agency’s values?

Maintain Clear Boundaries

Do you have the ability to set and maintain personal boundaries, to protect yourself from burnout?


Do you have the ability to develop and execute a strategy, and actually make things happen, not just talk a good game?

Understanding & Empathetic

Do you have the ability to stay close to your clients and understand what they really need?

Strategic Team-Builders

Do you have the ability to identify, recruit, and retain high-value potential staff, volunteers, and board candidates?

Master Delegators

Do you have the willingness to delegate authority to others while still retaining ultimate responsibility for the outcomes they deliver?

Effective Balancers

Do you have the ability to effectively manage for today’s needs, but lead for the future at the same time?

Role Awareness

Do you recognize that you are only a temporary caretaker, a keeper of the game, and your agency? Do you remember that the community, the board, and others are the real owners?

Successfully leading a non-profit in the fast-paced non-profit industry requires leaders to operate at a different level. There are more things then ever demanding your time, more pressure on resources, and more difficult decisions to make. Developing your leadership can have a significant impact on your non-profit, and help you be more successful — both now and in the future.

Do you have what it takes to be an effective non-profit leader?

Learn more about your leadership personality, with the Non-profit Leadership Styles Quiz.


You can also gain insight into the changing trends in the non-profit industry, by downloading your copy of the 2016 Non-Profit Trends Report.