Understanding how power works as a nonprofit leader is critical. Realizing that developing your core attributes in addition to skills can take your leadership game from good to great. But never forget where the real power comes from. It comes from the two to three sentences that you and your board slaved over and nearly wordsmithed to a pulp: your mission. What is it you do and what is it in the service of.
Your mission statement is your North Star. The big thing that matters most. Your role as a leader is to keep the organization focused on it, even when you are deciding about the centerpieces for the gala.
We’ll talk more about mission statements in the next chapter but here’s one quick example:
Make-A-Wish Foundation: We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy.
As a leader of this organization, you are not only in the wish-granting business for a really sick kid (of course, that alone would be enough).
But there is more to it. Every wish enriches the human experience, not just of the struggling individual. Every wish lifts us all up. When we read one of that organization’s stories, we feel a certain pride in what it means to be human. It brings us joy. And hope. Just like the mission statement says.
Great nonprofit leaders have certain skills, work on honing core attributes, and develop not only a real understanding of the nature of nonprofit power but an appreciation for it as well.
I don’t mean to make it sound so simple or easy—it’s not. Like I said, you are in the mountain-moving business—it couldn’t possibly be easy. But with your mission as your beacon, it is worth every single minute.
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JOAN GARRY began her career as part of the management team that launched MTV. After a successful eight-year tenure, she became an executive at Showtime Networks. In 1997, Garry left corporate America and was named the executive director of GLAAD, one of the largest organizations working for LGBT equality.
Since leaving GLAAD, Garry has worked as a consultant for hundreds of nonprofits, teaching them, with wisdom, joy, and humor, the keys to effective nonprofit leadership. She is a regular panelist on NBC’s nonprofit reality show Give. Garry is also the founder of The Nonprofit Leadership Lab; an instructor at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches nonprofit media strategy; and a sought-after speaker on nonprofit leadership.
Garry lives in New Jersey with her wife of 34 years and their three grown children.