7 Qualities of a Successful Nonprofit Leader

7 Qualities of a Successful Nonprofit Leader and How to Become One Yourself

A few weeks ago my husband showed me a great speech on leadership. The author, Spencer W. Kimball, used the Bible to discuss time-tested leadership qualities.

Today, I want to share with you these timeless leadership qualities because they are qualities that we should cultivate within ourselves in the nonprofit sector.

In this article we will:

  • Discuss 7 qualities of a successful nonprofit leader
  • Give you practical ways to become a better leader
  • Help you set goals to become a better leader

Let’s get started.

7 Qualities of a Successful Leader

Quality #1 Fixed Principles

A strong leader does not make up the rules as he or she goes along.

A strong leader has a set of fixed principles to abide by, which align with the mission of the organization. This will provide consistency in your organization.

For example, let’s say that your organization’s mission is to provide clean drinking water to rural Kenya. Now, let’s say that an older lady comes to your organization and says, “I’ll give your organization $100,000 if you spend it on wells in Nigeria.”

A leader with fixed principles would realize that this lady is asking you to deviate from your mission, which would take away needed resources from your true goals. So, even through it would be hard to turn down so much money, this leader would do just that.

Quality #2 “Come Follow Me”

A strong leader does what he or she wants others to do, and doesn’t merely say what he or she wants others to do.

You want to lead by example and be a role model for your organization and volunteers.

You can’t require that your employees work long nights and weekends if you are taking time off each day to go golfing. Likewise, you can’t expect your employees to be dedicated to the mission if you are only concerned about the money.

Quality #3 Listen

Great leaders listen to others.

Often, program managers or volunteers see an opportunity or threat to your organization that you don’t, so be sure to listen to them! They have ears and eyes around parts of the organization that you might not have time to pay attention to.

Quality #4 Selflessness

Great leaders are selfless, and lead for the cause, not for power.

“So many of the problems in the world today spring from selfishness and self-centeredness in which too many make harsh demands of life and others in order to meet their demands” (Spencer W. Kimball).

Quality #5 Give Responsibility

Great leaders give others responsibility and don’t always do things themselves to make sure it gets done “the right way.”

It is important to let your employees and volunteers grow, so help them grow by providing them with new opportunities to stretch their skills.

Quality #6 Accountability

A strong leader takes accountability for his or her actions.

If something goes wrong because of something you did, then admit your fault and change. It will do no good to place the blame on someone or something else.

Quality #7 Wise Use of Time

A great leader uses his or her time wisely.

Set yourself a schedule and keep to it. Also, don’t forget to set goals and work on them. Goals are going to make you more productive at work and in your personal life.

“Time cannot be recycled” (Spencer W. Kimball).


If you are like me, you might be thinking, “I see where your going… But now what? These are great principles, but how do I actually become a leader with all of these qualities?”

I want to now take you through the steps of making a few goals to develop these qualities in your own life.

How to Develop These Qualities in Yourself

  • Set Goals
  • Hold Yourself Accountable
  • Don’t Settle

Setting Goals

First off, we need to set some goals for ourselves.

Here are some goals you might set for some of the leadership qualities we discussed above. (You might decide to pick one leadership quality to work on this month and only set goals to develop that one. That way you won’t become overwhelmed.)

Goal Ideas

Fixed Principles:

  • Write the principles that you want to live by (such as honesty, the mission of your organization, etc.). Print it out on a large poster and hang it where you can read it each day.
  • Take one hour to think about some of the interactions that you have had in the past week. Were you consistent in what you had people do? Are you the same person to everyone in your organization? What can you change?
  • Decide on a core principle that you want to develop as a fixed principle. Post it where you will be reminded of it often and try to act accordingly for the next 21 days.

“Come Follow Me”:

  • Try to be a better example in your organization.
  • Spend one hour each day helping your employees with their tasks.
  • Hold a feedback session each week where employees can come and discuss issues that they are facing.


  • Write a short summary of what your employees come and tell you every day (to make sure that you listened).
  • Send followup emails to your employees with what you discussed in various meetings.
  • Ask employees for their input.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Next, you will have to hold yourself accountable to the goals that you set. For instance, I will typically write down my goals and share the larger goals with my husband. Then, he will ask for updates about my progress, which keeps me accountable.

Perhaps you want to share your goals with the Board of Directors or a few of your employees. Or, perhaps you want to set reminders in your phone that ask you to evaluate yourself.

Don’t Settle

Even if you set goals and hold yourself accountable, you might see that you keep forgetting to listen to your employees or to your board members. That is okay, unless you have given up. No one expects you to be a perfect leader, but you should always be trying to improve.


Don’t settle for being a poor leader, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t seem to master one of these leadership qualities.

Just keep working on it.

I wish you luck, and I’m going to work on these qualities too!

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