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6 Leadership Development Goals to Prioritize in Your Nonprofit

Leadership goals are needed not only to help leaders improve their skills, but to also better their teams. These objectives help individuals lead more effectively and promote a strong sense of value among staff members. 

There are all kinds of ways to develop leadership skills within your nonprofit organization. From developing active listening skills to adjusting as a new challenge arises, setting and tracking goals is an excellent way to prioritize growth and connect with your team.

Why Are Leadership Development Goals Important?

When you envision a leader for your nonprofit organization, what kind of characteristics come to mind? Are these characteristics able to be coached or do they first need a foundation to build from? Whether you’re actively seeking new leaders to join your team or you’re brainstorming ways to help your current leadership hone in on their skills, leadership development goals will promote positive improvement within your organization.

Leadership development goals not only help nonprofits provide structure when working toward their goals, they also promote the shared values of the organization into day-to-day tasks and empower leaders to showcase their expertise. 

Unfortunately, there is a lack of confidence among leaders in nonprofit organizations. In fact, just 21% of nonprofit leaders say they feel confident in their capabilities, which can largely be attributed to a lack of training.

Creating goals will help leadership determine where their priorities lie and provide direction on the training that will help build effective leaders at all levels of the organization. Elevating leadership starts with elevating the way they boost their team members and encourage them to grow within their roles. 

Consider SMART Goals

To push your leadership team and staff members to be their best, try to incorporate SMART goals into your development strategy. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goals to consider in order to measure progress toward creating a successful leadership team. 

The leadership development goals that you choose to implement should be clear and achievable by your team. Don’t set an ambiguous goal that they will struggle to accomplish. Instead, clearly outline areas of improvement and define a specific metric. Outcomes are important to establish because they provide a criteria for measuring success. 

As the 2023 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey found, 33% of participants say a lack of accountability for outcomes is a significant barrier to leadership’s ability to drive value for the organization. With a defined measure of success, you can hold your nonprofit leaders accountable to their growth. 

For example, you can easily set a broad goal of improving communication skills, but defining the expected outcome can give you data to measure. The outcome could be tied to employee surveys. Ask teams to provide feedback on the effectiveness of internal communications before enlisting leaders in training, and then send the same survey after leaders complete training and implement the new communication skills they learned. 

Make sure you’re also emphasizing how each leadership development goal is tied to the bigger picture. Outlining the relevancy of each goal will help motivate your team and highlight why this skill is important in the long-run.

Tie Your Leadership Goals to Innovation

Think beyond the current state of your nonprofit organization when you’re planning your goals. For example, you can help your current or new leaders understand your current mission and align their goals with the big picture goals of your organization. But empower leaders to think beyond the short-term. 

For example, with inflation rates in the U.S. being consistently above the long-term average, there is an inevitable need to plan for potential decreases in donors, which can be disruptive to nonprofits across the board. Middle class Americans are seeing their earnings fall behind rising costs of living, so it will be difficult to maintain donor retention rates. 

A good leadership development goal can be aligned with seeking innovation solutions for your nonprofit. That could entail outlining a roadmap for a new tech stack for your nonprofit, which can include automation software and a CRM that allows your donor relations team to build more meaningful relationships at scale. 

Ultimately, you want your leadership team to consider how to future-proof your operations so that when economic conditions eventually fluctuate, your team can maintain a steady channel of consistent donations. 

6 Leadership Goals for Your Team

Now that you know why leadership goals are important to implement in the first place, let’s discuss what kinds of goals will be beneficial for you. Here’s a list of leadership goals that your team can use to learn and grow as an organization.

1. Become More Adaptive

Adaptability is critical for any organization and any leader on the team. Change happens all of the time, and sometimes you can’t really be prepared for it. However, if your leadership team embraces new challenges as they come up, you can find ways to be successful as your plans adjust. 

Sometimes you might need to encourage your team to take a step back for a moment and ask, “What’s the best next move to get through this change?” The original method of action might not be applicable anymore, but that’s okay! Learning to adjust to changes will promote successful growth in the long-run. 

A common example we are seeing in the nonprofit industry involves the rise in digital fundraising. Online revenue increased by 23% over the last year, and that trend is expected to rise. This is where adaptability plays a vital role. You want your COO to stay informed about nonprofit trends so your organization can stay competitive and embrace new fundraising strategies as the industry evolves, instead of ignoring inevitable changes. 

2. Improve Active Listening Skills

We all know that communication is important. Effective communication impacts several aspects of your organization, including donor relationships and your workplace culture. Culture plays a factor in your team’s engagement and retention levels, and retention is a common obstacle for nonprofits. 

In fact, the turnover rate in the nonprofit sector is over 21%, most of which is voluntary. Lacking a leadership team who knows how to communicate effectively can have a direct impact on your ability to build and retain a strong team and positive culture.  

One way to improve communication is to focus on active listening skills. Leadership should be able to do more than just be in a room and listen to what someone else is saying. Active listening requires careful concentration on the discussion. This can look like taking notes or even sending a follow up email so your team knows what the main takeaways from your last meeting were. 

Active listening also involves body language and how you present yourself to those around you. Maintain eye contact and show your team that you are interested in the conversation. Staff will be more likely to trust leadership if they feel that leadership wants to hear from them. 

3. Be a Mentor

Being a strong leader is more than just delegating tasks. In order to advance leadership skills, an individual must also set a good example of what a leader should be able to accomplish and encourage others to be their best. Depending on your nonprofit, this could vary. Some leaders work better behind the scenes and others may be more hands-on. 

A good way to improve as a mentor is to provide shadowing opportunities, or introducing a coach. Allow another staff member to spend a day with leadership to observe their behavior and try to replicate those tasks. At the end of the day, it’s leadership's responsibility to help their staff find value in the work they do. 

4. Build Relationships

Relationships are built on trust in all scenarios. Without trust, leadership will struggle to motivate their staff to reach their full potential and accomplish the goals of the organization. The good news is that building relationships begins with a simple conversation.

Try to get to know your staff a little bit better. This includes making an effort to get to know the people who don’t work directly with you. You might even want to help your staff with their daily tasks. Spend a little bit of time everyday to ask your staff questions, listen to what they have to say, and provide support where they need it. They’ll get to know you better and see that you are committed to helping your nonprofit at every level. 

Your leadership team’s ability to build meaningful relationships also impacts donor relations. They should be able to connect with high value donors to support your organization’s fundraising goals. And given that major gift fundraising is the top revenue-generating strategy, this should be a primary focus for your leadership team.  

As noted above, you can tie this goal directly to measurable outcomes. For example, with major gift fundraising, you can track the effectiveness of your major gift development strategies over a defined time period. Assign leaders to these metrics to understand the impact they’re having as they focus on improving their relationship management skills.  

5. Provide Feedback

As a leader, it’s important to help uplift your team and encourage them to grow in their positions. This goes beyond providing praise when someone does a good job. Without feedback, your staff probably won’t know where they could improve and they might become comfortable with performing at an average level. Leaders should be able to challenge their team to perform their best, and to do so requires clear communication and structured feedback. 

One way to provide feedback is to establish annual, quarterly, or monthly meetings with team members. After observing their behavior, try to highlight where they exceeded expectations and be encouraging in areas where they can improve. 

When giving feedback, use this as an opportunity to have an open discussion and allow your staff to share their perspective on their performance. Also, create a plan for how they can continue to improve after the conversation. SMART goals work really well when it comes to providing feedback and a roadmap to success!

Keep in mind the way that leadership chooses to deliver feedback. Every individual is different, so provide feedback in a manner that will be received well. Giving feedback too often might come across as micromanaging whereas not enough feedback could hinder a person's motivation level. 

Some people might cope well with constructive criticism while others need more positive reinforcements. This ties back to building relationships and understanding how best to treat each of your team members.

6. Reflect and Learn From Failure

As humans, we’re bound to make mistakes sooner or later. Just as leaders need to be able to provide feedback, these same people also need to accept and learn from feedback as well. Heading advice from constructive criticism will help leadership develop into stronger individuals. Plus, mistakes are an excellent opportunity to learn, grow, and motivate leaders to enhance their skills and better serve their organizations.

Create a Leadership Development Action Plan

With some goals in mind, it’s time to put them into action! A strategic plan that improves upon leadership competencies will help your leadership team focus on long-term goals to meet the needs of the nonprofit organization.

When making an action plan, start by addressing the current status of your leadership team. Where are the weak spots? Where do some individuals excel? What are benchmarks that your team should hit, and when should they reach them? These SMART goals will provide structure and can be catered toward any nonprofit group and their unique objectives. 

Next, identify what goals your team should aim for. Feel free to pull from the tips mentioned above or create your own! Be sure to include how these goals will be measured and give an estimate of when they should ideally be accomplished. Just remember that changes come up all of the time, so a rough timeline should help you stay on track. 

Also, check in periodically with your action plan. Are you struggling with any development methods? Do you need to rethink any goals? Change is okay, just make sure you are working together to help leadership and staff members perform their best. With any leadership development plan, the overall goal should be to maintain the values of the organization and help everyone improve where they can.  

When using these strategies, don’t forget to continuously review your goals and make any needed adjustments. Leadership development isn’t always black and white, so accept change as it comes and try to stay flexible. Tracking progress will also be a helpful tool to make sure you understand your leadership goals and are taking the appropriate steps to achieve them. 

How Leadership Goals Strengthen Nonprofit Organizations

The mission of your nonprofit organization should be at the forefront of everything you do, including how you plan to improve your leadership team. Clearly outlined goals that are tied back to your values will be a strong motivating force for both leadership and staff to do their best every day. 

DickersonBakker is here to provide support for your nonprofit through effective leadership placement. Our services are designed to understand your nonprofit and find the right match to help your team excel. If you find yourself needing leadership support, don’t hesitate to reach out and speak with a development consultant today!

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