Why Every Non-Profit Needs a Strong Manager

Written by James O. Rodgers

Manager sitting at table with employees

Unlike many commercial organizations, non-profits do a very good job of sending the message of who they are. Non-profits have narrow focuses, and their clear visions and missions are exactly what attract employees. People come to work for non-profits because they buy into the vision; they’re dedicated and passionate about the mission.

Because of this, the leadership job becomes very easy: leaders don’t really have to rally their employees around big goals. Employees were rallied the moment they signed up.

Unfortunately, non-profits tend to fall short in one crucial way: they overlook the importance of management.

Moving the Needle through Management

When you look at a non-profit, you can always see the enthusiasm, but you don’t often see the results. That’s because managers aren’t doing their jobs to corral the energy, passion, and enthusiasm of the employees and direct it toward those specific actions that actually make a difference and produce the results the agency is seeking.

People arrive every day enthusiastic and passionate, but they slowly lose that enthusiasm because they don’t see results from their efforts. Without managers that can help direct them towards the best use of their skills and their energy, employees cannot contribute their best all the time.

As with any organization, a non-profit needs to be doing something to move the needle to reach their goals every single day. That’s the manager’s job.

Avoiding the Trap

Because of their narrow focuses and clear visions, non-profits of all types are susceptible to over-led and under-managed workforces. To ensure that employees keep their passion — and achieve real results — a non-profit needs strong management, just like any other organization would.

Non-profits who want to see real results need to avoid the trap of poor management. To do this, each non-profit organization should take the following three steps:

  1. Train Your Managers. Non-profits tend to do a relatively poor job of training people to do their jobs—including managers. Often, non-profits make a deadly assumption when they hire people: You were good where you were before, so you should be good here.

    These non-profits assume that someone who has demonstrated functional skills will also be good at managing groups of people to deliver specific outcomes. This, of course, is not necessarily the case. Therefore, non-profits need to train their managers and ensure that all managers are clear on the difference between their technical role and their role as a manager.


  1. Hire Carefully. As is the case for any company, non-profits need to hire intelligently and efficiently, with an eye toward results. To get the “right types of people on the bus,” non-profits need to consider the value that each potential employee’s particular skills, mindset, and perspective could bring to the organization.


  1. Hold Managers Accountable for Results. Managers should add value—that is, people should perform better under managers than they would by themselves. Otherwise, they’re superfluous.

    This is key for effective management anywhere. Follow Marcus Buckingham’s advice and have managers ask themselves, “Are people more effective working for me than not?” If the answer is ‘no,’ then that person needs to get out of the way; they’re preventing results.