In comparison to for-profit organizations and major corporations, nonprofits is a unique business structure. While companies rely heavily on analyzing trends, profit margins, investors, customers, etc., nonprofits must balance the business logistics as well as the emotional element that sits at its core. The nonprofit’s role in the world is to inspire and take action, being a light in an otherwise dreary place. To succeed in serving the greater good, nonprofits must rely heavily on sound leadership to steer the ship in the right direction. Nonprofit leaders must not only exemplify the ability to manage a business structure but also rely on their own understanding of emotional intelligence to carry out decisions that will inspire action in the organization.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to discern one’s own emotions, the emotions of others, and label them correctly. We could go a step further by saying that emotional intelligence is the ability to reconcile emotions and logic. In order to be effective nonprofit leaders, one must understand the power of empathy, connection, and self-awareness.

The Power of Empathy

Effective nonprofit leaders understand that putting themselves in the shoes of their staff and those they serve is crucial. For example, take Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water. It’s one thing to know that millions around the world don’t have access to clean water. It’s another to meet the people who live it every day, to live their lives with them. Only then can leaders make decisions that not only will be sustainable but effective in changing the lives of the people they wish to serve.

The Power of Connection

When making decisions that affect human lives, it’s not enough to rattle off statistics. With no context, statistics are simply numbers on a page. We mentioned our appended definition of emotional intelligence being able to reconcile logic and with emotion. This is how a connection is made. Leaders must retranslate these numbers into human faces to create movement.

The Power of Self-Awareness

Lastly, but certainly not least, one of the keys to emotional intelligence is discerning one’s own emotional state. Leadership isn’t easy. We all know this all too well. However, taking a mental assessment of your emotions to identify each one will not only help you understand yourself more but improve your business. Things start at the head and trickle down. If you are in a frazzled and unstable emotional state, chances are that your organization and staff will start to reflect that.

As a nonprofit leader, how do you use emotional intelligence to lead? What are some strategies that have worked for you to improve your skills? Sound off in the comments or start the conversation on social media!


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