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How to Manage and Lead Your Nonprofit Employees. Nonprofit MBA Podcast 2.8

Summary: There is a lot of overlap between being in a leadership position and being in a management position. Leadership development is a journey that takes lots of determination as well as trial and error to master. Through positivity, being a role model, communicating the organization’s mission, purpose, values, and culture, hiring the right people, emphasizing the value of work, and managing your emotions, you can lead a successful nonprofit. Deborah Reidy has 40 years of being a manager and a leader at nonprofits and talks with Financing Solutions Stephen Halasnik about how to be a better leader and manager.

Today’s Topic: How to Manage and Lead Your Nonprofit Employees

Deborah recalls an experience where she had to hire people who were much older than her and later supervise them. Many individuals did not want to be supervised by a 24-year-old, so that presented many challenges in terms of establishing credibility and building a professional relationship with these coworkers. In order to improve, she referred to mentoring to help her competencies and leadership skills.

Regardless, I had an incredible responsibility to create this organization from scratch that would serve people along the way. I was really lucky to have many individuals in various nonprofit industries serve as mentors and help me through my leadership development. I became very interested in what it took, not only to be a leader but to also help other people grow and develop as leaders. Over 10 years ago I got certified as a coach. I have also been a consultant, trainer, and board member with many nonprofit organizations. In addition to working in nonprofits, I also have a lot of experience in other industries including government, aerospace, manufacturing, education, healthcare, and more, however, the nonprofit sector is my true passion.

Most nonprofits that require a coach or consultant to restructure their organization either has trouble recruiting staff, a high employee turnover rate, or both. As a result, the management and leadership staff has to do all the work that is assigned to employees. Not being able to retain new employees causes burnout in these leaders and blocks them from focusing on the bigger picture. In order to increase your staffing rate, you can offer great compensation and benefits. If you are unable to offer this due to low funding, you may offer a competitive and mission-driven work environment to show there is a chance for a nonprofit career in their future. When you are in a leadership position there is a lot of learning that must take place before you really become a great leader.

6 Actionable Items to Become a Better Leader

  1. Be positive
  2. Be a role model
  3. Communicate the organization’s mission, purpose, values, and culture
  4. Hire people to fit the position and work culture
  5. Emphasize the value of work
  6. Manage your emotions

1) Being Positive

Deborah has identified that a key characteristic in nonprofit leadership is keeping the employees happy through positivity. Negative attitudes seem to prevent a natural culture in the work environment and block the spreading of positivity. Many studies state that happiness spreads through social networks and is more contagious than the spread of negativity.

Studies have also shown that high turnover in any organization, regardless if it’s a nonprofit or business, is usually attributed to the management and management style. These studies surprisingly do not show attributes to compensation or to the organization’s mission. Therefore, you can greatly increase employee retention by improving management style and how you treat people. Many people say that their direct supervisor has a bigger impact on their quality of work, experience, and engagement than any other factor in their job.

Many competent managers do not recognize the fact that their employees are looking to them for guidance and energy. If these managers come to work in a bad mood, frustrated, or impatient, they are impacting the people around them in a way that far exceeds their intended impact. Being in a nonprofit management role, you must orient yourself as a role model by motivating, collaborating, and engaging with your team.

2) Being a Role Model

Being a good role model requires one to be aware of the way they carry themselves and communicate with their coworkers. When in charge of a nonprofit organization’s future, you must be sure to plan out any decision making before you make final steps. Doing this will avoid wasting funds on unsuccessful projects. Be collaborative with your staff members, the board of directors, and your executive director. When you take precautions and make decision making a teamwork effort, your funds from donations, stakeholders, and funders will make a much more lasting impact.

Share a plan of your ideas regarding the future of the nonprofit that will lead your organization to be a successful nonprofit. Introduce fundraising ideas to help boost funding for future projects to work toward the nonprofit’s human services. Show you care about the employees by introducing a human resources department for them to consult with. Furthermore, a role model would present how to work well with their team members, while building these employees to be new leaders.

3) Communicate the Mission, Purpose, Values, and Culture

Communicating your organization’s mission, purpose, and vision will help your employees understand that the work they do every day is improving the likeliness of reaching organizational goals. When you are in a leadership role, it is great to acknowledge others by recognizing their explicitness about the behaviors and values that they are demonstrating toward the mission and vision of the organization.

For instance, a client of Deborah did direct mail marketing for nonprofit organizations where they would send out a weekly report that highlights and showcases the behavior or the accomplishment of an individual or a team working in that organization. They would make these accomplishments very public, showing their progress toward the organization’s mission. In a more informal way, your organization can also highlight somebody’s performance in a staff meeting by commenting on what they did well and why it relates to the purpose of the organization.

As a leader, you should ask your employees: How did you contribute to the organization? What were you doing toward its mission, purpose, and vision? This way, it becomes clear whether the employees have a clear understanding of the purpose of the organization and if these beliefs are tied in with their personal mission. Reviewing your organization’s mission allows everybody to be on the same page.

4) Hiring the Right Employees

When you are hiring people, be sure to explain to the prospective employees what your mission, purpose, and vision are so that these individuals can opt-out before they take the job if they realize they will not be a great fit. It is important to match job descriptions with these people’s passion. If you are hiring people who are not passionate about whatever it is that you are doing, it will be really hard for them to light a fire of excitement toward the organization’s mission.

Defining your organization’s culture is important also to define when hiring because like-minded people will be more likely to get along. Positivity in the work environment will come out so much easier as a result of defining your organization’s mission, purpose, vision, and culture.

When hiring, nonprofit managers should also identify what you can train employees to become or do, and identify what you want somebody to already have coming in. A love for learning is something that you may not be able to control for the new hire, but you can train somebody to want to grow in your organization through professional development. A great tip when interviewing people is to try not to make any judgment at all for 15 minutes and just listen to the prospective employee. By doing this, you will make a better hiring decision since you are better able to relate that individual to your organization in a meaningful way.

5) Emphasizing the Value of the Work

The nonprofit managers should emphasize the value of the work and the meaningful nature of the work to the employees. People become attracted to wanting to do something meaningful. Once they are hired you should continue to emphasize that their efforts at work every day are making an impact on the cause.

In the nonprofit sector, a growth mindset in employees is needed to strengthen the sustainability of the organization. It will also increase the employee’s desire to improve the work environment. The bottom line is if they are willing to learn and accommodate the organization’s culture, the whole team will work and behave together in a more cohesive way. Let your whole team know their work is appreciated by not just the organization, but also by your supporters and the communities that are benefiting from their inputs.

If an employee went the extra mile by working extra hours to help somebody, you should point that out and let them know how much that extra effort positively impacted the other person. When you recognize how proud you are of them by stating exactly what they did and giving them credit, it will make them feel good about themselves and excited to go to work. This type of recognition will make the employee feel like they have the best job in the world.

6) Manage Your Emotions

Do not let a situation destroy the leadership style that you have worked so long and hard to build. One negative outbreak can affect the way your employees view you and look up to you. You should always work to build your competencies including your ability to manage your emotions. Being a great leader means more employees would consider you for mentorship by your understanding of their position. This ultimately will build a base of improved employees.

Another guest on Stephen’s podcast once said “a good manager and leader manages their own emotions really well.” Typically when managers or leaders get angry, they lose their ability to think constructively. To avoid this, recognize that you are becoming unhappy with the conversation and that you need time alone to cool down and think reasonably. Neuroscience proves that the more triggered you are, the less your higher reasoning powers are operating. Therefore you can simply say, “let me think about what you said,”  and talk to them about it later once you have thought of a reasonable response in a cohesive manner.

Nonprofit leaders are usually extremely passionate about the mission, purpose, and vision of the nonprofit. This passion can be very contagious, however, if employees fail to work toward the goals, it can frustrate the leaders that are trying their best to make a change. Use passion to build momentum with others in the right direction and encourage employees to perform at their best level.


The best managers and leaders instill:

  1. Positivity
  2. Role model behavior
  3. Communication of mission, purpose, vision, and culture
  4. Hiring the right fit
  5. An emphasis on the value of the work
  6. Management of your own emotions

It is important to remember that you can not conquer Rome in a day. You should work on one of these actions at a time and move on to the next one once you’ve mastered the previous step. While in the learning process, be sure to build a desire for improvement because leadership is truly a work in progress. If you are still looking to improve your managing and leading skill set, you can complete a course or read a book about it to get a better understanding of it. Use any resources available to you. Leadership development is a journey that takes lots of determination as well as trial and error to master.


I would like to thank so very much Deborah Reidy from Reidy Associates. If you liked today’s podcast, please feel free to share it with a friend and subscribe on your favorite podcasting app. Also, please give us a review of your podcasting app to help us get the word out. If you are looking for a line of credit for your nonprofit, you can call us at 862-207-4118 or visit our website at nonprofitmbapodcast.com.

If anyone would like to get in touch with Deborah Reidy, you can they reach her at www.reidyassociates.org  or by email: [email protected]

Thank you all for making the world a better place.

About the Guest Deborah Reidy, Reidy Associates

Deborah has been working in the nonprofit community for about 40 years now. Her first significant leadership opportunity came when she was 24 years old. She was invited to found a residential agency for people with severe disabilities who are living in state institutions. I was given a quarter of $1 million and amazing support from the funding agency to create this organization www.reidyassociates.org.

About The Host Stephen Halasnik, Financing Solutions

Stephen Halasnik is the host of the popular, The Nonprofit MBA Podcast. The Nonprofit MBA podcast’s purpose is to help nonprofit leaders. Mr. Halasnik is the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Financing Solutions. Financing Solutions is a leading provider of Lines of Credit to nonprofits and small businesses. 

Mr. Halasnik is a graduate of Rutgers University and has an Executive Masters from the MIT Birthing of Giants Entrepreneurship program. Mr. Halasnik is a best selling Amazon author and is considered a leading authority on building great, purpose-driven businesses. Mr. Halasnik lives in New Jersey with his best friend, his wife Gina. Mr. Halasnik’s number one purpose is raising his two boys, Michael and Maxwell, to be good men. 

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