Leadership Culture in a Charity – 3 Lessons You Can Learn

Despite being not-for-profits, most charities have similar structures to businesses. That means they end up with similar cultural issues. Here’s how Great Managers helped one charity overcome its not-for-profit culture problems.

Charities all over the world do amazing work for the disadvantaged. But it’s often this work that leads to them developing cultural issues. For many, the focus isn’t on the leadership culture in a charity. It’s on the good work that they’re doing to help others.

That’s admirable, but it also leads to not-for-profit culture problems. At worst, these problems can lead to misspent money and a failure to deliver services.

That’s not acceptable for charities running on tight budgets.

Charities need people with effective leadership skills to remedy these cultural issues. And it’s those people that our client lacked when they came to Great Managers.

Improving Leadership Culture in a Charity – A Case Studycaring,baby,great managers,not-for-profit

One in every thousand Australian babies have some form of hearing impairment. All told, the country has more than 12,000 children with severe hearing impairments.

Those are the people that our client serves.

Founded in the 1970s, the charity teaches deaf children how to use a spoken language. Since its foundation, the charity’s speech therapists have helped 2,500 children and their families. Their work helps children to overcome this major obstacle so that they can reach their full potential.

Today, they work with 500 children across several states. They also maintain outreach centres in some of the states that they can’t fully service.

It’s a noble goal and the charity has access to the services of a lot of talented people. Unfortunately, it found itself dealing with some familiar not-for-profit culture problems.

The Issues

A strange combination of expertise and youth led to many of the issues that the charity experienced.

Firstly, the charity employs the services of many professional speech therapists to carry out its goals. These professionals have vast experience in their fields and have studied extensively. Many have PhDs and work in the medical field outside of the work with the charity.

Unfortunately, they often don’t have the skills needed to manage people.

Such an intense focus on their clinical skills has led to them not focusing on effective leadership skills. This is actually quite understandable. People with these skillsets often don’t work in managerial roles in their professional lives. As such, they’ve had no need to develop the leadership skills they end up needing in their work with the charity.

Their expertise almost works against them in this respect.


young talent,ambition,not-for-profit

There’s also the issue of younger key personnel that many not-for-profits have to confront. The charity attracts a lot of idealistic young staff to its ranks. This is very much encouraged. However, it also means that they often find themselves moving up the ranks quickly.

This in itself isn’t a problem. However, not-for-profit culture problems arise when people get promoted too soon. The charity was allowing people to ascend without providing them with the skills needed for their new roles.

Combined, these two contradictory issues created problems. When challenges arose in the charity, they inevitably got escalated. The speech therapists preferred to focus on their work rather than dealing with the issues. The younger managers didn’t have the experience or skills to handle them either.

That left the charity’s senior management to deal with the problems. As is always the case when this happens, this led to issues falling through the cracks. It’s almost impossible to handle the big picture while dealing with the minutiae.

The charity had tried training on a limited basis before. Unfortunately, they operate to a very tight budget. They’d yet to find a partner that focused on leadership culture in a charity. The few seminars they’d paid for didn’t work out.

It was in this condition that the charity came to Great Managers.

The Great Managers Solution

Before confronting the issue of leadership culture in a charity, we confronted the budget issue.

We created an arrangement that allowed them to take advantage of our services while sticking to their budget. Plus, we ensure our work focuses on specific challenges within the charity to get the biggest return on investment.

With the budget issue behind us, we could focus on the main not-for-profit culture problems.

Our cohorts focused on equipping the younger managers with the key skills they needed. We also helped the charity’s speech therapists recognise the importance of taking responsibility. Through these sessions, we helped the charity establish leadership at all levels.

This freed up some of the senior management’s time. That’s where the second aspect of our training came into play.

With our help, the senior management morphed from problem solvers into coaches. We equipped them with the mentorship skills needed to take active roles in staff training themselves. This allowed the charity to spend even less on training sessions. The senior team could now coach their younger managers to establish positive workplace behaviours.

The End Result

In the years since we started working with the charity, they’ve seen exceptional behavioural growth. Today, they have a team of professionals and young managers who understand and can execute the charity’s vision.

The senior leadership can now focus on further coaching, rather than just doing the work themselves.

By creating a great leadership culture in a charity, our client has also become a leading employer in Sydney.

The charity’s leader received a Manager of the Year for the not-for-profit sector. The charity was also named as the Employer of Choice for Sydney

All told, the charity now has more effective leaders and more engaged people.

Leadership Culture in a Charity – What Can You Learn?

Our client’s story is one that many not-for-profits are familiar with. A focus on service delivery often results in the de-prioritisation of leadership development.

That results in cultural issues that can derail the charity.

Here are three things you can learn from our client’s experience.

Leadership Culture in a Charity: Lesson #1 – Overcome the Inexperience Barrier

Our client has issues with inexperience at a few different levels. Its speech therapists had an intense focus on their technical skills. But they didn’t have effective leadership skills.

The younger managers who’d ascended the ranks also lacked experience. They’d gotten to their positions on merit. However, they needed some help to feel empowered in their roles.

Once our client focused on using training to overcome this inexperience, they saw marked improvements.

Many charities attract younger, ambitious people to their ranks. What these people lack in experience they often make up for in passion for the cause. This is a great motivator because it means your people get behind your mission.

But passion can only take you so far in a leadership role.

Recognise that some of the people you elevate may not have all of the skills that they need to manage people effectively. Account for that with training that helps them understand things they’d otherwise only learn through experience.

When done well, you’ll have a team of managers who combine skill with passion. That’s a desirable position for any organisation.

Leadership Culture in a Charity

Leadership Culture in a Charity: Lesson #2 – Become a Coach for Your People

The budget issue played a key role in our work with this client. They had very limited funds to dedicate to training. Most of their money went to delivering their services.

Most charities have similar setups. People want to see the money that they donate going towards the cause, rather than administration. This creates a conundrum for a charity’s senior management.

In our client’s case, they solved this issue by doing all of the work themselves. But in doing that, they weren’t helping their people to develop much-needed skills. The burden on the senior managers kept growing.

With targeted training, the charity eased this burden.

Now, its leadership has more time to coach its new managers. They can establish the vision and pass on the skills that their people need.

Remember that your people see you as a mentor, as well as a leader. They’re looking to learn from you. However, they can’t do that if you do the difficult work for them.

Use targeted training to equip them with the skills. Then, use your own experience to guide them on how to apply those skills.

You’ll minimise your leadership training spending because you’ll handle much of your coaching in-house.

Leadership Culture in a Charity

Leadership Culture in a Charity: Lesson #3 – Avoid One-Off Seminars

Sticking with the issue of budget, we come to the one-off seminars that many training providers offer.

Such seminars seem attractive initially. They promise to teach you everything that you need to know in the space of a day or two. That training comes at a heavy price. However, the skills your people develop should repay that price many times over.

Unfortunately, that rarely ends up happening.

These one-off seminars have several problems. They try to pack so much in that a lot of the information gets lost before it’s ever applied.  In fact, research proves over 90% of the information will never be utilised. They also try to cover as broad an audience as possible. That means you’re not going to get the specific information that your charity needs to confront its culture issues.

A lack of follow-up on the session is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

It’s these seminars that our client had tried to use before working with Great Managers.

Things turned around once we partnered with them. Our cohorts focus on the specific issues that the charity faces. Plus, we’re always available to follow up on our training.

This set-up means the charity actually spends less than it did on the one-off seminars but gets much better results.

The Final Word

Budget is a key concern when it comes to leadership culture in a charity. Most don’t have the money to spend on costly one-off seminars and training sessions. Those that do invest in these solutions often find that they don’t work.

This can result in you finding yourself in a similar situation to our client’s.

Your charity needs a committed partner to help your managers develop their skills.

Is your charity working to a tight budget?

Do you have a passionate team, lacking in people management skills?

Has your not-for-profit’s culture left too much work on your shoulders?

Great Managers can help you solve these issues and many more. Register for our webinar to learn how to create an effective leadership culture in a charity.