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Top 18 essential nonprofit management skills and development tips

The pandemic made it clear how important nonprofits are in an emergency. The truth is that nonprofit organizations play a role in the lives of those in need every day. However, these organizations are only as good as those running them.

If you are someone looking to work with others and change lives, then a career in the nonprofit space might suit you. But what skills and development tools do you need to make a difference?

When you earn a degree from Central Michigan University, you'll develop the personal and professional skills to be successful in nonprofit career. 

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What is nonprofit management?

Working in nonprofit management puts you in charge of not-for-profit organizations. These are the groups that pick up the pieces when others can't. They play a role in almost every industry, including healthcare, business and manufacturing. They build homes, fill pantries and comfort the critically ill and their families.

As someone working in nonprofit management, you would focus on the organization's day-to-day operations and funding. You may oversee both paid staff and volunteers, hold fundraising events and create reports for monitoring agencies. A nonprofit manager handles everything from board meetings to media.

The importance of strong skills in nonprofit management

Anyone who chooses a career in a nonprofit has the desire to help others, but that isn't enough to make you a successful manager. Nonprofits are under tremendous scrutiny from government agencies, boards of directors and the public. The organization's success is built on the manager’s ability to stay organized and build relationships.

It is not enough to be a good leader when working in this sector. Successful managers are what make the organization function. They must be able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of others and find ways to motivate them to work, volunteer or give.

They must be able to communicate the organization's purpose to people who need help, those looking to help and anyone who wants to fund that help. That takes not just strong skills but very specific ones. Some are natural-born leaders, but many need to foster these critical skills through education.

18 skills and development tips for managing a nonprofit organization

Consider honing the following skills to make you a successful nonprofit manager.

1. Strategic planning

Strategic planning skills help you create strategies that allow the organization to achieve its mission. The goal of any nonprofit manager is to keep the nonprofit grounded in a set of values and missions.

Strategic planning allows you to enhance accountability and create actionable plans to meet goals.

2. Financial management

The nonprofit sector is heavily monitored, and rightfully so. People give to nonprofits with the understanding that their money will go toward a specific purpose. The nonprofit manager must track funds and demonstrate the use of contributions.

It takes effort to balance the financial realities of a nonprofit with the desired social impact. Nonprofits tend to work within very tight margins. Organized and transparent financial management helps maintain the trust of donors and the public.

3. Fundraising

Fundraising is one thing all nonprofit managers have in common. They work with donors, government agencies and philanthropic organizations to keep the nonprofit doors open.

Fundraising isn't about dollars and cents. It is about relationships. Donor relationships are what sustain nonprofits, and that requires good fundraising skills.

4. Marketing and communication

Marketing is essential for the success of the nonprofit. It is what advances its mission. Through the right marketing strategies, nonprofits can identify potential supporters and sell their message to them.

Donors expect their interactions with a nonprofit to be personalized and intuitive. Like all businesses, nonprofits must develop an online presence and reputation through the effective use of marketing assets like blogs, websites and social media pages.

5. Leadership and decision-making

Leadership is different from management. It is that special something that draws people in and motivates them. Good leadership involves growing and sustaining engagement with people, whether donors or staff.

Successful leaders have strong decision-making skills. They know how to make informed choices for the organization and then convince others that they are the right ones. People look to them for direction and motivation.

6. Organizational development

Organizational development skills are what help a nonprofit manager create a brand image. They must be able to develop an appropriate way to promote the nonprofit's goals and expand them as needed.

Someone with strong organizational development skills can look beyond the obvious to manage risks and ensure that the nonprofit's structure meets any legal requirements. They create volunteer training programs and look for effective ways to fundraise. Everything is designed to keep the nonprofit moving in a forward direction.

7. Volunteer management

Volunteers are often the heart and soul of a nonprofit. The manager must know the best way to recruit and train volunteers. Engaging volunteers build the nonprofit's capacity, ensuring they can continue to serve the community.

8. Board management and evaluation

The nonprofit leader works with a board of directors to keep the organization solvent and functional. The nonprofit board is the governing body of the organization and is typically made up of people interested in the nonprofit but not necessarily in the day-to-day operations.

A nonprofit manager will work closely with the board but is usually not a member. The separation of these two critical leadership bodies allows for a more transparent operation for the nonprofit.

The board oversees the nonprofit's broad function, while the manager oversees the activities. They work together and evaluate each other to keep the organization running smoothly.

9. Program management and evaluation

Program management and evaluation are what keep the nonprofit running. Managers oversee the individual programs and then combine them to make the whole. It can mean a lot of balls in the air for the nonprofit manager.

They also need to be able to evaluate individual programs to ensure they are still viable. Then, if necessary, they may need to cut some to make room for new ones.

10. Human resources management

Any manager needs strong human resources skills, whether they run a nonprofit or not. They work with staff and volunteers and must create a diverse culture that supports everyone.

Some nonprofits have paid staff, as well. That means the manager must oversee benefits, payroll and other critical human resource functions.

11. Continuous professional development

Things change in the nonprofit sector the same way they do in any business. The nonprofit manager's job is to stay up to date with the latest trends in the industry. They must take part in continuing education not just for themselves but for the staff and volunteers.

12. Building strong relationships

Nonprofit leaders must know how to build and sustain those relationships that serve the organization. They need to know when to call in favors, how to market and when to apply for grants. At the same time, they must know how to hold fundraisers and grab the attention of the people who can contribute. Building relationships is a critical skill.

13. Staying current on industry trends

Like any manager, someone running a nonprofit would want to stay abreast of changes in their industry and take advantage of trends, including fundraising and marketing trends.

14. Encouraging employee growth and development

Nonprofits do well when they promote from within, as it helps ensure everyone is working toward common goals. Promoting professional and personal growth helps keep staff and volunteers engaged in the mission.

15. Implementing effective communication strategies

Effective communication is necessary to keep the nonprofit viable. Communication is the key to fundraising, obtaining grants and finding places the nonprofit can make a difference.

16. Engaging with the community

Nonprofits often host and sponsor events within the community. Engaging with the community allows them to unite like-minded people to support the nonprofit. Community relations is a networking strategy that can reduce costs and increase revenue.

17. Seeking feedback and evaluating performance

Nonprofit managers are responsible for ensuring the organization meets its mission most efficiently. That means asking how they are doing and continually evaluating the organization's inner workings.

18. Seeking out mentors and building a support network

Any professional can benefit from having a mentor and building a support network. A nonprofit manager runs a business, albeit one dedicated to the service of others instead of simply making money.

Whether you work in the nonprofit space or are considering it, now is the time to develop your skills. Find out more about Central Michigan University's Public and Nonprofit Administration degree and our Certified Nonprofit Professional Credential program today.

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