It’s Your Moment to Choose: Your Nonprofit Leadership Style Today

Article by , August 31, 2020

Folks, buckle your seatbelts. We’re in for a long road ahead. If you haven’t moved out of the pandemic crisis or short-term adaptive operations phases, now is the time.

To operate safely and sustainably today, we recommend you adopt both a long view and a creative, solving-style leadership.

And you don’t have to figure out what creative, solving-style leadership means all by yourself.

In fact, we hope you won’t.

Amongst your peers are nonprofit leaders showing you how to conquer the havoc this virus has wrought on your nonprofit. These leaders are your heroes and avatars.

These leaders show you:

  • possibilities,
  • roadmaps on how to progress, and
  • hope

More importantly, their leadership may inspire you to act.

What You Can Learn from Your Nonprofit Peers

In June, we launched a national study to explore What is (Really) Happening with Nonprofit Revenue? (Read the results and recommendations here.) Besides data, the results reveal three states of crisis leadership:

  1. Despair: A pattern of emotional angst, mixed in extreme cases with victimhood.

There are so many nonprofit organizations with awful bottom lines. I am concerned about our bottom line being impacted by grants and donations normally coming our way being diverted to the nonprofit organizations in critical circumstances.

  1. Acceptance: A pattern of balancing emotions and focusing on facts.

We offer training programs, and there has been a 70 percent decline in registrations since going virtual in response to COVID-19.

  1. Solving: A focus on solving, a combination of musing about possibilities, and sharing actions underway.

These are your leader-avatars. Here are several of their comments to help you recognize these leaders and their mindsets.

We are halfway through a matching gift campaign (two more weeks to go), and we have already achieved our goal. The donations coming in seem to be larger than usual.

We are sharing content via every avenue available. Literally tapping into every source and using word of mouth by encouraging all contacts to also share content with their contacts. Encouraging donors to fund students who can’t afford to attend courses—also offering all our courses online.

We will find creative and engaging ways to increase our membership by creating smaller events for members.

This pattern of mindsets during this crisis correlates with what Gail Bower calls The Resilience Continuum.

What accounts for this pattern?

All sorts of variables—such as how the respondent felt that day, the level of challenge the organization was experiencing, how far along the individual was in terms of processing grief and other emotions related to the pandemic, the respondent’s general orientation in life—may have influenced their personal responses. Their collective responses indicate patterns of thinking.

This much is clear: those on the right side of the continuum are more optimistic, are finding ways to be creative, and exert more control over their situations than the others. They are, in short, becoming more resilient.

How do we know? Because their comments revealed three ingredients behind nonprofit leaders that generate revenue in good times and bad:

  • They believe in their organization’s value.
  • They are ready to do whatever it takes to build awareness for the mission, and
  • They are committed to developing and maintaining strong relationships.

Launching a matching gift campaign in May 2020 was gusty, don’t you think? Also, jumping to alternative delivery methods is a lovely way to serve more people and grow your community, whether through programming or small events for members or other means you dream up.

Since revenue always stems from people, when your nonprofit fulfills needs, you simultaneously build pipelines of customers and supporters for the long-term.

Solving leaders get busy resolving their organization’s challenges. Entrepreneurial nonprofit leaders go beyond solving. They create, innovate, and leverage what others consider obstacles into something even better—opportunities.

Creativity and Leadership

Creativity can be stimulated by familiar polarities, expansion, and constraint. When you and your team brainstorm, you’re expanding. You’re coming up with new ideas, building on what exists, merging variables together, and shaping a new approach from something that exists.

Once you have that big list of new ideas you’ve brainstormed, you apply constraints. You whittle them down to the best and strongest ideas using strategic criteria.

Coronavirus has thrown us into the opposite pattern. Out of constraints, we must enlarge. When we can’t meet in person, get too close, and sit side-by-side, we must expand our ways of operating and thriving while we live with this contagious virus.

As your organization’s leader, where do you see possibility, opportunity, and ways to enlarge a situation within the constraints of your safe operation?

Remember, nonprofit leaders bear many different titles and sometimes no title at all. You lead when you guide others toward their goals. Your leadership might be unrecognized, such as when you help a confused newcomer in your parking lot. Or, your guidance might be celebrated, such as when you launch a million-dollar matching campaign. In both cases, and many in between, you’re a leader.

In Karen Eber Davis’ book, Let’s Raise Nonprofit Millions Together (to download a free chapter follow this link), she describes numerous and specific contributions that the people who care about your work can take to help you gather millions. Inside the book, you’ll find custom prescriptions for all your nonprofit leaders’ behaviors so that you can grow revenue.

An arrow with fear and anxiety one end, pointing to creativity on other

Your Leadership Prescription for Now

By reflecting on the Resilience Continuum above, reading the leaders’ comments, and the different leadership styles identified, where is your leadership mindset today?

Hopefully, you catch a glimpse of how solving and creating leadership work. Both energize you and those who follow you. Thinking about possibilities and answers brings hope and inspires new ideas. Next, taking action creates momentum and more ideas.

As you move from despair to accept to solve and create, you move from COVID happening to you to deciding how you will respond to it. Solving and creating are more effective than despair or acceptance. Both attract the people whom you want to gather, especially current and future supporters.

While your nonprofit always benefits from your leadership, your nonprofit needs your solving and creating leadership now more than ever. It’s your moment to choose. And, once you make that choice, remind yourself of it. Tie a string around your wrist, write a dot on your hand, or put the word “solve” or “create” on a stickie note on your computer screen.

Lead by solving and creating, so that when the pandemic is over, your nonprofit will be somewhere new—and better. You will have tested new solutions, created new ideas and made new heroes, including you.

Karen Eber Davis

President, Karen Eber Davis Consulting

Karen Eber Davis helps nonprofit leaders become revenue heroes. People hire Karen to help increase their revenues by up to 300 percent—what they gain are strategies that improve their organizations forever. As the award-winning thought-leader, advisor, and founding principal of Karen Eber Davis Consulting, Karen helps organizations discover propulsion tools to grow their mission, community, and revenue. Davis is known for her innovation and practicality. Besides Let’s Raise Millions Together, she is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams. To learn more, visit

Gail Bower

President of Bower & Co. Consulting LLC

Nonprofit organizations engage revenue strategist Gail Bower to become self-sufficient by developing reliable sources of earned revenue. Gail has been working with nonprofits of all sizes and scope for over 25 years. Her clients have doubled, tripled, and quadrupled earned revenue sources in under a year. And that’s just the first year. Trained as a futurist, Gail studies where society is headed and what trends may impact her clients’ businesses. She’s the author of How to Jump-start Your Sponsorship Strategy in Tough Times, a frequent speaker, and expert media source. To learn more, visit