What drives success in nonprofit organizations?

Dr. Rick Arrowood explains the importance of leadership

Many people think successful nonprofits run on passion or altruism, but Dr. Rick Arrowood knows better.

“The most important thing people running nonprofits can do is to pass on leadership to as many people as possible, to engage them,” he says. “That’s how nonprofits work.”

For Dr. Arrowood, that leadership can come from almost anywhere.

“Leadership has nothing to do with titles,” he says. “Anyone can be a leader, from the janitor to a member of the board of directors.”

In fact, according to Dr. Arrowood, faculty in the Master’s in Leadership and Nonprofit Management degree programs, nonprofits often make their first mistakes at the top.

“Many times, when someone starts a nonprofit, they’ll go out and put almost anybody on the board of directors to satisfy the requirements for incorporation and tax exemption,” he says. “Five years later, they’re not any closer to achieving their goals than on Day 1. That’s because they did not start with a leadership profile of what the organization really needs. You have to design a board of directors from a leadership perspective – what does this person bring to this organization to get me and my mission moving forward?”

From there, nonprofits of all sizes need to keep the focus on leadership development.

“Nonprofit organizations, regardless of the size, need to have leadership education at every board meeting – even if it’s for only 15 minutes,” says Dr. Arrowood. “They should devote time to a different topic every session: teams, hidden conflict, how to work better together, passion. The key that nonprofits forget is that there’s this need to harness all of their human resources capital. They sometimes lose sight of that because they’re too focused on executing the mission or raising money.”

Developing those skills can make the difference between a nonprofit that thrives and one that never quite gains traction.

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