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How to Grow into a Nonprofit Leader

Whether you’re aspiring to be an executive leader, get promoted into a director’s position, or even launch your own nonprofit—rarely there are clearly defined paths to career development when working in the nonprofit sector. While this lack of structure can be challenging, it offers an unexpected opportunity to pave or create your own career path. Without the typical career ladder to climb, the opportunity to take on new responsibilities could be presented to you in a more timely fashion. At any age, with drive, desire and expertise being essential characteristics, you can become a nonprofit leader who wants to make a difference.

In order to create the right professional development plan, here are nine methods to follow, to consider, and use as a guide when furthering ones’ professional career as a nonprofit leader:

1) Conduct thorough interviews: Find those who hold a position that you might aspire to want one day. Take the opportunity to ask questions about how they got to where they are, what their day-to-day tasks look like, how they contribute to the organization, and what the position requires of them.  

2) Seek out volunteer opportunities: When it comes to learning, especially within the nonprofit sector, there’s no substitute for hands-on experience. Volunteering can offer exposure to the operational facets of the organization by taking on new responsibilities, such as, join the fundraising or strategic planning committee or volunteer to help with the organization’s next event.

3) Ongoing education: If you’re looking for an advantage when pursuing leadership opportunities, consider looking into continuing education (i.e.: an advanced degree, or a specific leadership training program). Having this additional training under your belt will set you apart being well versed in business management principles and the ability to juggle competing priorities.

4) Learn about your organization: Take the time to develop a well-rounded view of everything that is involved in the role of running a nonprofit. This experience will be valuable to you as you progress into a leadership position.

5) Apply constructive feedback: As you take on new challenges and work outside your comfort zone, it’s more than likely you’ll make mistakes along the way. Take the time to learn from these and plan how you will do better in the future.

6) Network amongst your peers: Find people who are at a similar point in their own careers and develop genuine relationships with them. Be sure that you add real value to the relationship and that way, your peers will come to value you—opening doors for you in the future.

7) Relocate to another organization: With a strong foundation of skills in place and a desire to take on more responsibility, you might find that your current organization doesn’t have any openings for you to move up to. Take this opportunity to look for other employment and if you find a great position within your network, don’t hesitate to pursue it.

8) Join a nonprofit board: Being part of a board will give you high-level insights about the inner workings of nonprofits. Develop relationships with others who serve on nonprofit boards and seek out an organization doing work/serving a community that you’re passionate about.

9) Find day-to-day challenges: Leaders face challenges daily, so it is crucial to avoid becoming complacent. Striving to challenge yourself on a daily basis will not only push you to find solutions, it will help you build your resume.

When applying these methods, you will develop the skills and knowledge necessary to successfully lead an organization. If you envision yourself in a leadership role, you’ll have the ability to lay the foundation by excelling in the position you currently hold. These methods will help you cultivate leadership skills, emphasize teamwork and inclusive decision-making.

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