BLOG: All Things Higher Ed

What kind of leader are you? Five leadership styles for non-profits

An organization is only as strong as its leadership. Every enterprise needs a competent person at the helm, and this is especially true for nonprofit organizations. The work of nonprofits is critical to those whom they support. Yet they often struggle to maintain funding and are accountable to the public, media, board of directors, and government, making effective leadership necessary to stay afloat. 

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Working at a nonprofit is not the same as working in a traditional office and takes a different leadership style to connect all the dots. So, what leadership style can make you an effective nonprofit leader? 

How leadership style can impact company culture 

Regardless of the industry, leadership shapes the culture of an organization. That means it can have both a positive and negative influence on it. In a leadership role, you must pay attention to the surrounding environment, including the moods of the staff. Observant leaders deal with problems before they can become fires. 

It is also their job to create balance within the culture. It is easy for work environments to become segmented and cliquey. That is the purpose of team building – to encourage cooperation and communication to benefit everyone. 

The best leaders stay active in the nonprofit community. Someone that the staff never sees is not an effective leader. Leaders must know each person's role in the nonprofit and help them better understand their place there. At the same time, they must reinforce accountability and require people to take ownership of what they do. 

The most challenging part is finding a balance between all those things. Leaders need to be present but not micromanage. They need to demand accountability without being unfair or biased. 

Qualities of great leaders 

What does it mean to be a born leader? The truth is that anyone can learn to be an effective leader. Some qualities make it easier, however. 


The best leaders understand their flaws and can accept feedback. They should also be interested in personal development, be open to change, and be able to communicate the need for it. 

Build skills in others 

Nonprofit leadership should be able to mentor its employees and help them develop their skills. Leaders can determine whether an individual or group is ready to perform a specific task. If not, they give them direction or provide coaching to help them build that skill. 

They encourage communication 

Strong leaders communicate their thoughts clearly and listen to others actively. That is true regardless of whether they are speaking to someone that is part of their culture, has a position in the organization, or has a role as a stakeholder working outside of it. 

Being an effective communicator means ensuring everyone understands the expectations of their role and the organization’s mission. 

They foster innovative and strategic thinking 

Leaders look ahead and aren’t afraid of change. They make informed decisions based on the organization's needs and encourage their staff's calculated risk-taking and innovative thought. 

Different leadership styles in nonprofit organizations 

Although leaders working in the nonprofit sector have some common qualities, they may take different approaches to find success. In addition, leaders in this realm face unique challenges, like fundraising. In general, though, nonprofit organizations have five common leadership styles. 

1. Transformational leadership 

Transformational leaders apply enthusiasm, optimism, and confidence to their roles. They don't just preach these things; they live them. 

A transformational leader embodies their organization's values. They use the nonprofit's vision as motivation in every part of their job. They are also always looking ahead, imagining what good the nonprofit can offer the world. They strive to make everyone understand why they take specific steps and how they could serve the nonprofit's mission. 

2. Participative leadership 

Participative leaders listen to those working for and with them to manage a nonprofit. This nonprofit leader believes that an inclusive mindset is critical to the organization's success. They are what most people think of as a democratic leader. 

A participative leader will delegate tasks and ensure everyone plays a role. They listen to feedback from those working for them and make changes based on it if warranted. They encourage collaboration, promote from within, and look for solutions when problems arise instead of finding someone to blame. 

3. Charismatic leadership 

Charismatic leaders use their engaging personalities to foster enthusiasm for the nonprofit's activities and mission. They communicate well and can persuade others to follow a particular path. 

Charismatic leaders can be very effective at persuading people to follow their vision. They tend to take high risks that either pay off or challenge the organization's sustainability. They have a win big or go home attitude. 

4. Transactional leadership 

Transactional leaders use goal setting as a motivational tool, similar to someone working on commission in a sales environment. They define success as meeting goals and can lack forward-thinking skills. If innovation interferes with their goals, they may avoid it. 

This form of leadership does have advantages in the nonprofit market, however. They have the drive for fundraising and may be able to meet financial goals when others fail. They have no problem chasing donors and talking them into funding if it means meeting goals. 

5. Servant leadership 

A servant leader strives to put others first. In that capacity, they may share their power with others to motivate them. They consider the well-being of the people around them and the communities they serve when making decisions. They will work to help them find success and grow both as people and as professionals. 

Which leadership style is best? 

There is no correct answer because each of these styles offers benefits. It is essential that those looking to work in nonprofits find the one that suits them and is a good fit for the organization. Your role as a leader is to inspire people, which will mean something different in each environment. 

Having an education helps you learn more about yourself and your leadership skills. That allows you to apply them to a leadership style that is right for you and your situation. 

Central Michigan University offers a real-world approach to teaching. We also provide a diverse campus environment and stand by our commitment to education and upholding diversity and inclusion. 

At Central Michigan University, you have access to both online and in-person learning opportunities. We even have study-abroad options available for our students and offer programs in many fields. Find your next career at Central Michigan University today by visiting our website

Blog: All Things Higher Ed posted | Last Modified: | Categories: General Education
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