Non-Profit Leadership: Are You a Tenacious Leader?

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I can’t think of a more rewarding and challenging role than to lead a non-profit. Those of us who lead such valuable organizations have a unique stewardship that provides so many assets to our communities. It is deeply enriching and gratifying to be able to provide hope and help to so many individuals who have been impacted by adversities. 

Yet the challenging part of our role is when we have to meet all the demands of the situations that are systemic, pragmatic, philosophical, financial and sometimes political. Some of the criteria we have to meet are more than demanding. We have traditionally been under- financed, and short of personnel and other resources which often can threaten our very mission.

There are times when changes happen without our input, creating chaos for our organizations. Other times our funding streams are cut and we have to improvise. We often have traumatic situations that happen within our organizations. Our staff members can burn out and have to take sabbaticals or even resign to preserve their lives. We apply for and wait for grant funding and often do not receive it. We wish for new tools for our staff in order to help improve their work conditions and for many reasons, cannot supply them. It is also not infrequent that our organizational safety is compromised simply by being overwhelmed by the many needs that we struggle to meet.

I have personally experienced some level of most of these situations that have threatened the non-profit I oversee. Sometimes the threat is intense and sometimes it is just another annoyance. However, what I have recognized is that non-profit leaders need a great deal of determination and tenacity in order to maintain their mission and provide the services that help to meet the needs of those they serve. It seems so incongruent that non-profits have to work as hard as we do when we are providing such valuable services. 

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What does it mean to be tenacious? It is an ever-present drive to continue our mission in spite of the circumstances. Sometimes it means that we look at the risks and make strategic decisions. Other times it means we rally our staff for a next important step or change. We often have to ask for help financially or pragmatically. At times we have to be creative or innovative in the face of double-binding and confounding problems. Or we find that we have to occasionally step out of our comfort zone and take key steps to secure our future. We even must confront governance issues as we manage our leadership in the midst of conflict.

What is important is that in the face of adversity, we persevere. It is the leadership example our staff and constituents need to see. No matter what the outcome we will be confident that we have done everything we can to preserve and grow our non-profit organizations. We also learn how capable we are to problem-solve and find a path to overcome some of the obstacles that threaten our mission. Tenacity is such a key of the best part of non-profit leadership.

Gerry Vassar


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