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Take These Three Steps – Now – to Prepare Yourself for Leadership

Now is the time.

With growing demand for capable leaders in the nonprofit sector, if you are an aspiring manager, senior executive, fundraiser or board member, you have a timely opportunity to prepare yourself for leadership.

According to a 2021 survey of charity leaders by Imagine Canada,[1] nearly half reported increased demand since the onset of the pandemic while organizational capacity has not kept pace. At the same time, 25% of respondents expected staffing levels to increase.

Meanwhile, retirements have been accelerating. The number of Canadians who retired in August 2022 reached 307,000[2], almost 32% more than the previous August (233,000 in 2021). 

This means growing demand and dwindling supply of key members of the nonprofit workforce – and expanding opportunities for prospective leaders. It may also be helpful to know that a 2022 salary and benefits report[3] by Charity Village found that cash compensation increased over the past two years for functional and program staff (7.4%), senior executives (5.9%), and senior management (4.7%). 

What are the obstacles to moving ahead? Given that those working in the nonprofit sector have likely been working harder than ever to cope with demands magnified by the pandemic, your organization may lack the time, resources or opportunities to support your ambitions to advance.

Or possibly you may not have had the time or energy to think about advancing in your career.

But as workplace disruption gradually subsides, this is an opportune time to move that process forward.

Here are three steps to help you shape your future career.


What kind of leaders do organizations need today?

Following the massive pandemic shifts in the workplace, leaders and managers who can establish direction and execute effectively with creative problem-solving and by activating the talents of others have never been more necessary.

Nonprofits need people who can help transform their operational model to succeed in this new environment. They want leaders and managers who will drive innovation and impact. To do this, according to the Harvard Business Review[4], today’s managers and executives must be able to fulfill three roles:

  • architect who builds culture and capabilities;
  • bridger who enables talent networks; and  
  • catalyst who energizes and activates.

At the same time, crawfordconnect’s Manager-Leader Model for Nonprofit Leadership which sets out 15 essential attributes, continues to be timelessly relevant. This model encompasses the essential competencies, traits and knowledge that enable today’s leaders to competently address current and emerging challenges.

crawfordconnect Manager-Leader Model for Nonprofit Leadership


  1. Strategic thinker
  2. Relationship builder
  3. Collaborative decision-maker
  4. Entrepreneurial achiever
  5. Effective communicator
  6. Change leader
  7. Inspiring motivator

Personality traits

  1. High integrity
  2. Adaptable/Agile
  3. Perseverant/Patient
  4. Interpersonal sensitivity
  5. Passionate about the mission


  1. Financial acumen
  2. Deep sector-specific knowledge
  3. Understanding & valuing diversity

This is an ideal time to take a close look at the challenges that nonprofit employers are facing and how your experience and skills can help them solve these problems. What value can you contribute to your current and future employers?


How can you become the kind of leader, fundraiser or manager who’s most in demand? Take personal responsibility for developing your knowledge, competencies, and experience. There are a variety of ways to do this.

Start by revisiting your long-term career plan. Think about what you ultimately want to do and with what type of organization. With a visualization of where you see yourself down the road, you can map out your path to getting there.

With your current organization

  • Initiate a discussion with your manager about on-the-job opportunities and possible new responsibilities.
  • Clarify your goals and finetune your career plan with the organization.
  • Request enhancements to your professional development program with the organization.
  • Actively seek learning opportunities such as training, team building and mentoring activities.
  • Seek collaborative projects to build cross-functional knowledge and experience.

On your own

  • Establish your own personal development plan. Aim for continuous learning.
  • Seek certifications and credentials that enable you to gain a comprehensive understanding of the nonprofit sector, including management, programming and fundraising.
  • Ensure you have capabilities with the latest technologies – take courses or look for work experience involving these technologies.
  • Consider undertaking an advanced degree or courses to expand your knowledge base.
  • Join professional associations and participate in their professional development and volunteer opportunities.
  • Expand your circle of contacts by joining peer networking groups and initiating exploratory conversations about the sector and its notable organizations and leaders.
  • Join other charitable or nonprofit organizations as a volunteer in an area of interest or an unfamiliar functional area or position to gain new perspectives, experiences and contacts.
  • Work with a coach or mentor to build skills, receive informative feedback and expand relationships.


If you don’t see room for advancement with your current employer, it’s time to look outside rather than limiting your professional growth. In fact, working for the same organization in the same or similar roles for many years can convey the impression to potential employers that you lack ambition.

Working for different organizations and with different people will upgrade your skills and build your leadership experience.

It’s also helpful to regularly participate in job hunting. Many opportunities are a matter of fortuitous timing. And the process of continuous job hunting encourages proactive career management and helps you stay prepared and agile – ready for a promising opportunity when it arises.

In this regard it’s helpful to connect with executive search firms that have established relationships throughout the nonprofit sector. Once you’ve started to establish a track record of professional success, take the initiative and reach out. Along with being a source of potential job opportunities, an experienced consultant can often provide a valuable impartial perspective regarding your career trajectory.

Actively prepare, or risk redundancy

This is a crucial time “to recruit and retain the best people to carry out our sector’s community-oriented missions and address the most complex social problems of our time,” according to the Ontario Nonprofit Network[5]

Don’t miss this window to advance into the leadership role you visualize, or someone else will.

Optimize your career options and opportunities. Take these three steps  – today.

Deborah Legrove, CFRE (2002 – 2017), is President of crawfordconnect and has more than 35 years of experience working in nonprofit fundraising, marketing, leadership and executive search. You can reach her at deborah@crawfordconnect.com.

[1] Imagine Canada’s Sector Monitor – The uneven impact of the pandemic on Canadian charities, August 2021
[2] Labour Force Survey, August 2022, Statistics Canada
[3] CharityVillage 2022 Canadian Nonprofit Sector Salary & Benefits Report: The Pandemic Edition
[4] What Makes a Great Leader? Hill, Tedards, Wild, Weber; Harvard Business Review; September 19, 2022
[5] State of the Sector During Uncertain Times, Ontario Nonprofit Network, 2022