“I’ll put my head down, work doubly hard, then my boss will recognize my fabulous contributions. Lickety split, I’ll be on my way towards a promotion and sweeter salary,” said oh-so-many nonprofit professionals.
And why wouldn’t we believe that? It’s the narrative we’ve been told from the era of kindergarten—work hard and you’ll be dually rewarded.
What no one told us as fresh-faced children with peanut butter stuck on our chins is that working hard is only part of the equation. Management is a minefield
You may view yourself as an exemplary specimen of management material. Maybe you are currently a manager or you are aspiring to your first management position.
Either way, a LOT rides on your capabilities. A 2019 survey uncovered that 49 percent of people have left a job due to a bad boss.
Your employer requires complete faith in your abilities to be an extraordinary leader before you are promoted. If you’re tapped to helm a team you’re not equipped to manage, it can set off a domino effect of resignations and lead to disengaged employees.
Should your employer have any doubts about your ability to lead, motivate, and meet goals, you’re likely to stay on the sidelines. Keeping your head above office drama
Every nonprofit has moments of interpersonal chaffing. It’s unrealistic to expect every person on every team will get along swimmingly every day. I’ve never walked into a nonprofit’s office and heard the staff singing “Kumbaya.” Have you?
How you navigate conflict speaks (or rather shouts) volumes about your ability to lead.
Do you have a reputation for getting involved in office skirmishes? Do people think you keep the wheels of the rumor mill greased? These are surefire ways to undermine management’s ability to see you as promotion material.
While it can feel frustrating to take the high road and keep your thoughts about certain people to yourself, it’s crucial if you want to demonstrate your emotional intelligence and ability to work through conflict. Executive presence
While this term feels more at-home in the for-profit space, it applies equally in the social sector. Are you showing up polished and professional? Or are you joining a Zoom call in that t-shirt you received from a 5k in 2016? Is your screensaver a picture of Beavis and Butthead?
Leaders set a tone for their team. While nonprofit offices may be a bit more casual than the business world, it’s vital you carry yourself with professionalism.
Leaking privileged information, constructing curt emails, and playing favorites will win you no fans. Demonstrate you are a leader who values professionalism and ethics day-in, day-out to build rapport with your co-workers and prove you’ve got the chops.
Stephanie Maitland, FFINZ, CFRE, has been a fundraising professional in New Zealand for two decades. When it comes to on-the-job professionalism and executive presence, she says, “Working for a nonprofit means being in contact with people of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds every day. I could be meeting with the Chair of a large international corporation in the morning and handing out food parcels in the afternoon.
“I always try to be mindful of how I speak, what I say, what I wear, and more importantly, how I made each person feel. It reflects on me, the people I work with, and the organization I represent. Many years ago, I was told ‘all the important decisions about you will be made when you’re not in the room. They will be based on the confidence you’ve inspired in those decision makers.’” Can you work alone and in a team?
I once worked with someone in their 40s who was incapable of starting any project on her own. She required a meeting to be walked through the A – Z of the project, a template to work from, multiple follow-up emails, and then, after all that, still tried to push the full assignment off onto co-workers.
You must be able to take direction and self-start projects if you want your boss to believe you can tackle increased responsibilities.
The inverse is also true. It can be tempting to think you can manage a project end-to-end without drawing in other staff.
“Oh, it’s just easier if for me to work on this alone. I won’t get slowed down by my peers.”
“It’ll take me longer to explain this to junior staff than if I just do it myself.”
But if you do this too often, you will build a metaphorical fence around yourself. Others may begin to distrust you, not because you’re untrustworthy, but because there is little sightline into your processes and you appear uncollaborative.
A hallmark of a good leader is their ability to delegate and trust in others’ work. These two pieces are crucial to managing an effective, empowered team. While it can feel scary to let go of some control, doing so gives staff room to grow their skills and make meaningful contributions.
Proving you can work alone as well as with others is pivotal to moving up. Staying sharp
Don’t forget to take time for your own professional development. Hopefully your organization recognizes its importance.
Keep a running list of the conferences, webinars, workshops, and more you attend. At your annual review, ensure your boss is aware of the time and effort you’ve put into enhancing your fundraising knowledge. If it has been a minute since you participated in professional development, make time to attend some courses that will shore up your skillset.
The world of fundraising moves fast and it has only accelerated with the nonprofit sector’s collective pandemic pivot.
Do you know how donor trends have shifted in the past year? How corporations approach social responsibility today? Or are you still operating like it’s 2019?
Get thine self to a comprehensive training, pursue a certification, and make sure you’re plugged into sector trends. Go get ‘em
Advancing in your career isn’t cut and dried and there’s no magic formula. By investing in yourself and ensuring you’re adhering to professionalism at all times, it’s more likely your efforts will pay dividends.