Nonprofit Leadership: What Not to Say

posted on September 23, 2020

At this time, when things are so challenging, we need great nonprofit leaders. It doesn’t matter if you run a small community group. Nonprofit leadership is essential, and all our communities need to see and experience more social good. As you might know, our social enterprise leader, Wayne, always says, ‘YOU Matter.’ He does it because there was a point in his youth where he felt he didn’t matter to anyone. However, it was the words of a kind teacher that turned his life around. Since then, he’s always repeated, YOU Matter. But, he also says that words matter.

So, today, let’s explore some words that no nonprofit leader should say. As Wayne wrote in a recent article in his blog about nonprofit challenges, leadership is vital. And, during an incredibly challenging time, nonprofit leadership—even at small organizations—is critical.

7 Things Nonprofit Leadership Should Not Say in Management

Leadership is an activity that gets learned. And, the reality is that you will get people to follow and support you, but you have to inspire them. In other words, you have to demonstrate that you care. So, one of the vital things to always remember is that your words matter, as Wayne says. As towns and cities across our country seek community leaders, these are seven things your nonprofit leadership should not say. If you strike these words from your language, you will see that people will be more responsive to you. Moreover, you will have a chance to show up and lead at a time where your leadership is essential.

1. ‘I’ll do it without you.’ Leadership is a team endeavor.

Sure, sometimes it’s easier just to take the bull by the horns. However, leadership is not about doing things on your own. On the contrary! It’s about motivating and inspiring people to join your effort. At this time, it’s about rebuilding together. So, remember that idea as your nonprofit leadership seeks to engage your team and supporters more. During this time of great innovation, it’s a chance for you to allow them to discover creative solutions. Moreover, you also need to allow failure. No one learns anything without loss, and calculated failure is essential for programmatic and nonprofit growth.

2. ‘We don’t do it that way.’ History does not guarantee future performance.

Past experience doesn’t matter. That’s in the past. As you know, we live in a world teeming with disruption. One of the worst mistakes your nonprofit leadership could do is rely on how things were done. Instead, what you want to adapt to the changes happening, including embracing technology and data. In short, in the digital age, what gets valued is innovation, creativity, and understanding through data. Data information now provides vital information, not past performance. Take a look at these 106 free or low-cost online tools for your nonprofit to help you in modern fundraising and operations.


3. ‘I’m the boss.’ Everyone knows your leadership role—no need to state the obvious.

One of the other worst things you could do, which sounds petty, is to inform your team about your leadership position. When you do so, you show that you are not in control. Again, nonprofit groups and people want to be inspired. Leadership inspiration comes from what you do and say. And, it never includes your stating the obvious to people. That’s not how you earn peoples’ respect or following. Instead, take the time to explain why you choose, or not, to do something. By providing information, you will get more support because people understand your thinking.

4. ‘It’s impossible to do.’ Nothing is impossible. You just have to figure out how to do it.

Have you ever wondered how the most successful people got to where they are in life? They do it because they see no barriers. Now, let’s look at your nonprofit. Let’s say that a major donor said to you, I’ll give you $100,000, but you need to start to scale your organization to help the entire city. Would the challenge seem impossible? When you think of the word ‘impossible,’ you limit yourself, and by extension, everyone else. Instead, believe that anything is possible; that’s how to motivate volunteers. The digital era is not a time for impossible. On the contrary, it’s a time full of possibilities.

5. ‘Failure is not an option.’ Failure is part of the recipe for success.

Failure is essential to success. In fact, most learning happens when programs, ideas, and hypotheses fail. Yes, many small nonprofits operate with limited resources. However, the ones who survive and thrive are those that understand that failure is vital for learning. If you lead a small nonprofit group, consider asking a major donor for revenue for a pilot program. Nonprofit leadership, especially during tough times, means testing and exploring. Sit with a donor or small group of donors to innovate new programs to alleviate need, scale, and do it in alignment with your mission.

6. ‘Relationships don’t matter. It’s all about data.’ The fact is relationships still matter.

In the digital age, it’s easy to believe that the only thing that matters is data. Sure, data information is essential. But, relationships with your team and supporters still matter. Take predictive technology, such as boodleAI, for instance. While it could help you predict behaviors for fundraising, you still need to connect with people. People are not robots, and when it comes to fundraising, often their hearts lead first, and their minds follow with justifications. So, while data is vital, make it a point to maintain healthy relationships with everyone.

7. ‘I.’ Your nonprofit leadership success relies on your team—not just you.

Finally, success in nonprofit leadership means giving credit where credit is due. As the leader of a nonprofit, you may find yourself becoming your group’s face and voice. While that’s necessary, remember that it’s your entire team that deserves success. Make it a point to accept failures fully, but when it comes to wins, use plural terms, such as “We made it happen.” In short, your team will appreciate the acknowledgment of the work they did. As we know, everyone plays a part in making something successful, so share the love. By doing so, you earn more respect and commitment from your team and supporters.

Special note: We know that small nonprofits are in great need. Check out these nonprofit resources to help you with your work.


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