(Originally posted by Lauren Kline on Philanthropy Front and Center—Atlanta)
Whether you’ve aspired to be a nonprofit leader since your first trip to the YMCA as a kid or you’ve just stumbled into a leadership position by chance, entering a new leadership position can be overwhelming. Money must be raised, volunteers need to be trained, programs need to be managed, and board meetings need to be held all while you’re still trying to learn the organization’s dynamics. You’re probably wondering where to begin and what to prioritize. Zoot Velasco brings his personal experience to guide nonprofit managers in The First 100 Days: Leading Small Nonprofits out of the Wilderness. Velasco offers these tips for new leaders that are just establishing themselves in an organization:
1. Leadership is not just giving orders
It is easy to forget that a new title alone doesn't equate to authority and that you must earn people's trust and respect through your actions. You must accept the fact that you do not have all the answers and that being “in charge” does not mean that people will always listen to you.
2. You have to prove yourself in the first 100 days
When you first enter a leadership position, you will have a short period of time where people will listen to you simply because you are the new boss. Velasco estimates that frame of time is approximately 100 days and that if you want to implement change and have respect beyond this point, you must build a solid foundation for your leadership in the first 100 days.
3. You must gain consensus
Getting people to listen to you and gaining respect in the first 100 days and beyond requires asking people for their opinion. This helps people feel more involved and helps you better assess the organization's climate.
4. Get to know your stakeholders
Interview all your staff, board members, committed volunteers, committed program participants, and major donors within the first few weeks of starting your new position. This will help you quickly learn the history of the organization better than any existing written document could. All these interviews may seen time intensive, but they will give you the opportunity to really get to know your staff and quickly identify problems within the organization.
5. Organize a stakeholder retreat
Once you have identified the key problems and players within the organization, Velasco advises that you organize a retreat that gives you time to establish a plan to fix these problems. At the retreat, make sure to give everyone a role so that they feel included in the process. Also, make sure that deadlines are set, so that action is taken on the items discussed at the retreat.
6. Keep a positive attitude
It seems like every management book under the sun advises leaders to have a positive attitude, but there is good reason for this. As Velasco points out, positivity brings fresh air to the organization and helps stakeholders feel more confident about your leadership.
For more advice on to how to excel in the first 100 days in a management position, check out Velasco’s book in Foundation Center—Atlanta's library! It’s an excellent professional development book for those interested in pursuing upper management positions in the future. Velasco avoids being too theoretical and gets to the real issues facing nonprofit executives through providing real examples of what works and what doesn’t. For those that are not as familiar with nonprofit structure and jargon, Velasco also supplies background information in each section that provides some context on the topics.
In addition to The First 100 Days: Leading Small Nonprofits out of the Wilderness, we have a number of other books for nonprofit managers available in our library. If you're not able to make it to our location, don't forget: additional resources for nonprofit managers can always be found in GrantSpace's Knowledge Base.
Good luck on your journey as new nonprofit manager!
Lauren Kline, Program Associate, Foundation Center-Atlanta