June 12, 2012

Four Questions to Ask About a Nonprofit’s Leadership

This page is from an older series on nonprofit due diligence. For our latest thinking, please visit Philanthropic Sourcing, Diligence, and Decision-Making: An Equity-Oriented Approach.  

By: The Bridgespan Group
Learning about the nonprofit’s leadership will reveal whether the executive and management team are able to guide the organization effectively. You’ll gain a sense of the strength of the leadership team and where it may need to develop, and whether the leaders can maintain focus and make tough decisions when necessary. Additionally, you’ll learn about factors that are critically important to an organization over the longer-term, such as whether there is a succession plan for key people, and whether the board is effective, engaged, and aligned with the leadership team.

How deeply you research a nonprofit's leadership—as with any other area of nonprofit due diligence—depends on your unique situation. That said, you will likely want to do at least some research on the nonprofit's primary leader. You will also want to take a look at whether the board contributes to the nonprofit, since the board has a part in leading the organization. As with other areas you'll research, you can find out a lot of information from secondary sources.

With that in mind, begin by asking these questions:

  • Does the executive director have a vision for the organization? Does he or she have a personal track record of success?
  • Is the leadership team able to effectively guide the organization? Can it maintain focus, make tough decisions, and inspire staff?
  • Is the board effective, engaged, and aligned with the leadership team?
  • Is there a succession plan in place for key people, such as the executive director?
How do you identify strong nonprofit leaders and leadership teams? In your experience, what are the characteristics of the best nonprofit leaders?

Creative Commons License logo
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available in our Terms and Conditions.