The Need to Have Effective Managers and Leaders in Non-Profit Organizations
By Shane Nelson
Faculty Member, Management at American Public University
Every industry and every small-town business has a manager. There are often misconceptions about the different stress levels, workloads, and general responsibilities of managers that work for non-profits and for-profit entities. For-profit business models offer unique challenges, especially for publicly traded companies. In terms of how it achieves its business goals, a non-profit is much different than a for-profit.
One such example is a YMCA. I have been blessed to manage and be a leader within the YMCA movement for the past several years. The YMCA is one of the leading nonprofits in the world today. While many individuals consider the YMCA as simply a gym and place to swim, the organization as a whole has changed exponentially over the years. While I do not have to answer shareholder questions from Wall Street analysts, I do have to answer to local residents about how I will enhance their lives and community. That is the standard and foundation for being effective in the non-profit world.
From an altruistic and puritan ethic perspective, the YMCA focuses on areas that provide a deeper impact on the communities they serve and encourages individuals to better themselves and others. More specifically, the YMCA focuses on ways to provide opportunities for children and families to learn grow and thrive. The YMCA is an advocate for developing the individual to become a better person and potential community leader. Proof of this can be seen in the social responsibility statement the YMCA posts on their website:
“Believing that everyone, regardless of age, income or background, deserves to be healthy, confident, connected and secure, the Y is a powerful ally and advocate for our communities. With a focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, the Y collaborates with national and community-based leaders and policymakers to increase the resources and support that empower individuals, families and communities to learn, grow and thrive.”
The YMCA also firmly believes that, in order for every manager to be effective, the manager not only must meet financial goals, he or she must improve the lives of others. Non-profit managers accomplish this by becoming stalwarts for social responsibility and personal growth as a change agent for every community member that enters a non-profit facility. This begs the question: Which of the contrasting for-profit and non-profit management responsibilities are harder?
1) To meet personal goals for my own enrichment If I worked for a for-profit; or,
2) Working for a non-profit and meeting financial goals while also jugging how those goals must also align with the betterment of each person?
Many of my current goals at the YMCA are projects and efforts completed through collaborative efforts. The ability to collaborate is a key management skill found in many YMCA leaders throughout the nation. Collaborative efforts are needed by managers of YMCAs in order to make the organization successful. While collaborating with others, personal agendas must not deter discussions and debates. The managers and leaders of non-profit organizations must remember that, in order to be successful, they must keep the altruistic mission of the organization at heart. When times are difficult for every type of organization, and economic conditions hinder its ability to grow, leaders must make hard decisions. Non-profit managers try to make decisions that are best for the organization and the community it serves. This often means that the non-profit managerial decision- making process will not place profit before people. I might not be able to say that, or embrace that philosophy, if I worked for a for-profit. My compensation and accountability are based purely on the good do for others.
Each and every one of my decisions is based on a higher calling than my personal ambitions and desires. An example of this can be seen in the recent state alliance grant funding in Michigan. The manager must collaborate with other organizations, both nonprofit and for-profit, to successfully use funds that do not appear to be a self-serving allocation of equity.
A second example is after-school programming. By collaborating with local school districts and YMCAs throughout the country, we have been able to provide low-cost, high-quality after-school programs. My YMCA offers a structured environment; healthy snacks, 30 minutes of exercise daily and homework help, as well as weekly math and reading programming. The weekly reading time which utilizes the school’s computer lab has shown an increase in the reading rates of students in the program of some 25 percent on average. In order for programs like this to be a reality at YMCA, managers and leaders must establish good relationships and collaborate with school administrators. Communication and focus on the mission of the YMCA is important with each program I oversee. The leader and manager must always be willing to go above and beyond in order to positively impact the community. This means doing good without expectation of a return. This is a mandatory foundation for any manager working in the non-profit world.
I try to work daily with one rule in mind: treat everyone the way I wish to be treated. I feel that by embracing this management approach, good things will happen. In order for me to be effective, I have to embrace the mission, vision and social responsibilities that the organization promotes in our literature. In order to be effective, I need to embrace what we stand for and manage for people, not profit.
About the Author: Shane Nelson has a master’s in management from the University of Phoenix and specializes in nonprofit management. He has experience in strategic planning, fundraising, board development, as well as successfully managing nonprofit and community collaborations. Shane has served in nonprofit leadership positions as well as on nonprofit boards. Shane is currently working towards his DBA at California Southern University. He is a lifelong learner and he enjoys bringing his real-world experience into the classroom.
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