What All Effective Nonprofit Teams Have in Common

3 min read

In our work with hundreds of nonprofits over the years, we’ve identified several traits of the most effective nonprofit teams. What do almost all of them have in common? 

Effective nonprofit teams: 

  • Are strategically aligned;
  • Have clear roles and responsibilities;
  • Align across the board, leadership and staff; and
  • Represent the communities they serve.

So what do effective nonprofit teams look like in practice?

Effective nonprofit teams are strategically aligned

Strategically aligned teams are clear about their most important work because they’re operating off of the same goals and objectives, which translate into their nonprofit’s most important priorities. A strategically aligned team:

  • Has a vision and mission, and makes values-based decisions; 
  • Operates under a strategic plan, and transparently tracks its progress toward the goals defined in that plan on a weekly basis;
  • Hosts annual and quarterly planning meetings, monthly mission meetings and weekly team meetings all run with an agenda focused on each department’s most important priorities;
  • Communicates clearly about their goals and objectives internally and externally.

Effective nonprofit teams have clear roles and responsibilities

One of the most common things we hear from nonprofit leaders when we ask them to describe their role is that they do many, many things from strategy to marketing to fundraising. Often, what this really means is that the organization hasn’t defined its most important goals and objectives, and therefore, this leader doesn’t know what their priorities should be. 

We recommend using a strategic plan to define your organization’s goals because defined roles and responsibilities come as a byproduct of good strategic alignment. Then, once your organization’s priorities are clear, structuring teams in terms of functional accountabilities, such as strategy, operations, programs, marketing and fundraising. The most important thing is that one person is accountable for every function. At smaller organizations, fewer individuals will wear many hats, and therefore may be accountable to more than one function, while at larger organizations, one person may oversee a team of people in just one functional area. Either way, structuring teams across functional areas makes it easier to define each individual’s role in advancing your nonprofit’s mission.

Effective nonprofit teams achieve alignment between board, leadership and staff 

It’s no secret the board, leadership, staff dynamic is one of the biggest challenges nonprofits navigate. Why? We’re all human. And the most effective teams have this mastered. This manifests from good leadership. It’s the CEO or the leadership team’s role to serve as the bridge between the staff and the board. This person or team must determine what to bring to the board for advice and input and then ensure any decisions made by the board are properly communicated to their teams. Board and staff relationships, in particular, can also be fostered by creating opportunities for board members to engage in your mission and alongside your team from time to time. 

Effective nonprofit teams are representative of the communities they serve 

The most effective nonprofit teams are representative of the communities they serve. Community voice plays such an important role in shaping nonprofit programs and services, and this can be achieved through stakeholder engagement. However, it’s even more critical to have individuals with lived experience on nonprofit boards, in leadership positions and on teams, so they can bring their perspectives to the organization and its mission day-to-day. Often, this results in diverse teams, which research shows make better decisions and can even make us smarter, more innovative and harder working. Most importantly, community representation ensures that decisions are made with the input of individuals who have shared similar experiences to those your nonprofit exists to serve.

How is Your Nonprofit Advancing its Mission?

Going through the process of outlining your organization’s most important priorities and documenting them in a well thought out strategic plan is the first step in answering this question.

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