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Letter to Nonprofit CEOs About Leadership

Crain's Chicago Business YMCA of Metro Chicago brings in new CEO to revamp struggling nonprofit | Crain's Chicago Business Visit Creator: | Credit: Copyright: John R. Boehm All Rights Reserved Want to know where this information comes from? Learn more Related images See more Dorri McWhorter, CEO, YMCA Metropolitan Chicago Dorri McWhorter, CEO, YMCA

Dear Nonprofit CEO,

After working with hundreds of nonprofit CEOs over 20 years as a consultant and 20 years as a frontline advancement executive, I think I can speak with credibility about the strategies and behaviors of a strong nonprofit leader.

At the risk of boiling my reflections down to binary comparisons, I will do so nonetheless in the interest of your time… because you are really busy.

Do’s … Board

  1. State a vision for your organization, work on it with your board members, and institutionalize it with them.
  2. Drive your board and board agenda, in partnership with your chairperson.
  3. At each board meeting bring an embodiment of your mission: a decision to be made, an innovation for your organization, a program update that furthers and supports your mission and vision.
  4. Push your board to reflect the diversity of those you serve, and aspire to serve.

Do’s … Staff

  1. Put your organization’s mission and vision at the core of your planning, decision-making, program execution, and staff communications.
  2. Let your staff know, through all of your actions, that their success is your success.
  3. Set clear performance and behavioral expectations with your staff.
  4. Hire well and let your staff do their jobs without your interference.
  5. Offer your staff selfless assistance, guidance, and resources when you think it can enhance their success.
  6. Do regular walk-a-bouts and talk with staff.
  7. Make professional development opportunities part of your benefits package and insist that your staff use them.
  8. Conduct semi-annual performance check-ins with your reports and make sure they do the same with theirs.
  9. Hold all-staff meetings at least once a quarter to reinforce your organization’s vision, share your insights, discuss key performance indicators, celebrate successes, and address challenges. This will build team spirit and morale.

Do’s … Donors, Stakeholders and Constituents

  1. Communicate regularly through multiple channels to reinforce your organization’s mission and vision and how the community benefits from its work.
  2. Conduct listening rounds to get feedback and ideas from a diverse range of donors and stakeholders.
  3. Engage with a portfolio of top-tier donors and donor-candidates, in coordination with and with guidance from your advancement leader, to build authentic relationships on behalf of your organization.
  4. Participate visibly with community and business organizations.


Fail to do most of the above.


Larry G. Raff

President, Copley Raff Inc.


Copley Raff’s missionEvery interaction is to help nonprofit organizations fulfill their missions by meeting ambitious goals, aligning their leadership, elevating fundraising, and activating the brilliance of their teams. It is a bold promise but one that we know will serve you and your organization’s mission in a way that will deliver tangible and meaningful results – the kind of results that make a real difference!

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