Most nonprofit organizations begin with passion and, in some cases, compassion. The organization is developed to serve the community and help neighbors within that community. There may be a need for some type of social services, youth programs, arts or education, and the organization is formed based on those needs.

Anyone who works at a nonprofit will tell you that it takes more than passion to make their organization thrive. It needs money to stay afloat and continue serving the needs of the public.

While the goals of the nonprofit are noble and often the reason why people join the board or apply for a staff position—executive director, development, marketing, sales, administrative, etc.—the organization has to run as a for-profit (as a business) in order to thrive. However, some people who work for a nonprofit, including executive directors (EDs), presidents and others in leadership positions, have little to no training in running a business.

The lack of good, trained leaders will negatively affect the nonprofit. The organization needs to have an environment of trust in order to thrive. When trust is missing, turnover is a given and the organization could fold from a lack of stability.

If you are in a leadership position—president, director, manager—and you are having trouble communicating with your employees or board members, if your organization is operating in the red, if your turnover is high, if you are consistently fighting for funds, read on…

Value of skilled staff

Having a staff skilled at handling particular elements that help run the organization, such as development, fundraising, marketing, grants and the like, will assure the growth of the organization. A financial officer and accountant should also be part of the staff to keep the financials aligned and realistic.

An executive director who does any or all of the above tasks is simply wearing too many hats, and many things will fall through the cracks. Just as with a CEO or president of a company, an ED’s role is to oversee the staff, to make sure the organization runs smoothly, and act, essentially, as a project or organization manager. An ED concentrates on working with donors and board members, and this person is typically the face of the local nonprofit. EDs have a lot of responsibility, but they should not take on tasks that other employees can be hired for. The CEO of a corporation does not run a multibillion-dollar organization by doing everything. Likewise, an ED of a nonprofit cannot run an organization on his or her own and realize growth.

Having a skilled staff and leadership team can bring value to a nonprofit because everyone has a focused role. They share responsibilities, which lessens the overwhelm people typically feel when they are asked to keep adding to their work and never catching up.

An ED who has never been trained in management contributes to the low morale and low productivity, which ultimately stunts the organization’s growth. Employees might complain that the ED does not communicate well, is unapproachable, is never available or does not give direction. How do you know if you, as the ED, are struggling in your organization?

Leadership, including the leadership from the ED and department leaders, shapes the organization. Staff needs leadership; they need to follow people who will guide them and will encourage them to grow professionally. They need an atmosphere of trust.

Value of continual training

Is all hope lost for the organization without skilled employees?

Not entirely. But this is why training needs to be at the forefront of the organization’s employee professional development and added to the budget.

Employees and managers are immediately put through training when they are hired to work with a for-profit company, and nonprofits should not be any different. Yet when it comes to working for a nonprofit, employees and leadership are often suddenly thrown into their new positions without any training, without any onboarding. They are handed the paddle and expected to find the boat and steer it.

Training is necessary to grow your nonprofit organization.

Who needs training? Everyone. The ED, president and other leadership need to be trained in leading teams, being a coach to their staff, how to build trust and how to communicate effectively with their staff.

Leadership especially need training. As staff changes, as the organization goes through change, leadership skills need to be enhanced to keep the organization moving forward.

Good leaders know how to motivate their teams. They know how to encourage their employees to be creative and innovative while building trust with them.

Training in professional development goes a long way in helping people be good leaders.

Members of the board of directors need onboarding to understand the organization and its goals, to learn their own personal strengths and how they might positively contribute to the organization. They need to learn expectations.

All employees—whether in development, marketing, sales and administration—need onboarding and training to learn about the organization, to understand its mission and goals, to understand their individual expectations, and to be trained in their particular roles and appreciate how each role contributes to the big picture of the organization.

Treating staff as valuable members of the organization

People thrive at their jobs when they are good at what they do. Their skills contribute to the productivity of the organization. When people are trained to be better at what they do best, or are trained for new skills to enhance their abilities, this will give them confidence. It will boost their enthusiasm and only add to the growth of the organization.

Ongoing training shows your employees you value them and their skills and are willing to invest in their future, especially their future with your organization. It also reminds them how their individual contribution helps the organization’s goals and objectives.

It shows them you care about them and the organization. Your staff are part of the community you serve, after all. If your staff does not support you, how can you show that you are capable of serving your community?

And as leaders, you are the model for your employees. An organization is defined by its leadership, and the community—your donors—sense when a nonprofit is doing well or is unstable. Leadership should see their worth in the organization and consistently work on their professional development.