Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 16 seconds

skillsFor many nonprofit organization leaders, 2018 will bring a host of new challenges and opportunities -- not the least of which is the ongoing generational shift in the nonprofit industry. As the industry transforms itself to adapt to changing technologies and new ways of doing business, the more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. are experiencing heavy turnover, with baby boomers retiring and Gen Xers and millennials taking over leadership roles.

Because of this transformation, nonprofit leaders can no longer simply rely on fundraising savvy and personal connections to be successful. Instead, true success at the helm of a nonprofit requires leaders who have a mix of both hard and soft skills: a blend of technical, measurable aptitude with the less tangible, interpersonal abilities.

Measuring what matters

While it is harder to measure soft skills, such as critical thinking or creative problem solving, these skills are crucial for both leaders and employees.

A new study by iCIMS found that recruiters are placing a higher value on soft skills in prospective employees. Beyond that, the 20th PwC CEO Survey found that 77 percent of respondents view underdeveloped key soft skills as the biggest threat to today’s business world. Given the importance that CEOs place on soft skills, nonprofit organizations should take advantage of the opportunities to hone them - whether through continuing education, training, or seminars.

Top rated soft skills for nonprofit leaders include:

  • Communication

  • Leadership

  • Critical/strategic thinking

  • Creativity

  • Problem solving

  • Adaptability

  • Conflict management

  • Collegiality

  • Remembering the basics

    Running a nonprofit is no easy feat. The highly digitized, technology-driven landscape that nonprofits now must navigate makes the leader’s job -- in the past, largely a matter of fundraising skill and good connections – much more complicated.

    According to a study by Bentley University, which analyzed data from 24.5 million U.S. company job listings, the modern job market has shifted towards what it calls the “hybrid job;” job descriptions that once required specific hard or soft skills now call for a mix of both. For nonprofit organizations in particular, leaders must bring a combination of soft skills with technical, hard skills to the table, in order to ensure the well-rounded, versatile skill set now required to effectively guide their organization and its employees towards long term success

    Top rated hard skills for nonprofit leaders include:

  • Writing

  • Web development

  • SEO/SEM marketing

  • Branding

  • Finance

  • Business management

  • Fundraising

  • Cultivating a balanced skillset

    Establishing critical thinking skills or becoming a master in finance doesn’t happen overnight. But there are ways that professionals can augment their skill sets, such as continuing education and formal training. There are also online learning programs, geared towards working professionals that teach both hard and soft skills; these programs are generally less expensive and less time consuming than classroom-based education or training, but are equally effective options for adding to an existing skill set. And, as nonprofit leaders step into their roles, they should consider offering continuing education courses to their employees –to ensure that they are keeping up with the most in-demand skills.

    In the long run, the tech-savvy millennials who are poised to take over leadership of the nonprofit industry will need to exhibit more than strong digital skills. As they find themselves dealing with donors, partners, and employees of different generations, these future leaders will need to exhibit both hard and soft skills. The most successful leaders will be those with the most diverse and balanced skill sets.


    Frank Connolly brings more than three decades of experience in journalism and politics to his role as Senior Editor at MindEdge, where he manages curriculum design and content creation for a variety of courses, with an emphasis on the social sciences. An award-winning columnist and editor in alternative media, he later spent more than 20 years as a political consultant and pollster, advising candidates for President, U.S. Senator, Governor, and other offices. A graduate of Harvard College, he writes mystery stories in his spare time.

    Last modified on Monday, 16 April 2018
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