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Leading with strategic intent in the NPO space

​The increasing number of complex societal issues we face during this time of unprecedented economic, technological and environmental change present both opportunities and challenges.  To create the level of change required to make a real difference in society calls for new ways of doing things.  It calls for greater focus and collaboration – focus on goals and strategies to achieve what is needed, as well as greater levels of collaboration whether within or across teams, and even inter-organisationally.

While it is evident that government is unable to attend to service delivery and other demands adequately, partnerships and collaborations are becoming increasingly important as no single organisation or sector can be effective in addressing society’s needs on their own.  Businesses are slowly recognising that to be socially responsible extends beyond just funding community initiatives and implementing  environment-friendly ‘green’ policies,  but that to remain sustainable, they must actively engage around issues affecting the communities where they operate – the communities on whom they depend for business.  Genuine partnerships with non-profit organisations (NPOs) that know the pulse of communities are needed.  The need for these multi-sectoral (public-private) partnerships has become even more pressing with the funding crisis in South Africa, which has recently resulted in many NPOs being forced to close their doors – leaving already vulnerable communities destitute.

This situation has once again shone the spotlight on the important role of NPO leaders – whether they hold formal or informal positions.  Leaders need a clear vision and must be able to mobilise and motivate their teams to implement sound strategies effectively.  The matrix (diagram) developed by Stid and Bradach (2009) clearly illustrates that high performing NPOs need both strong leadership and strong management.  This is of particular relevance for the large proportion of smaller NPOs in South Africa that are often led and managed by the same individual.  So, effective leaders need to be competent and skilled to hold the tension between leading and managing their organisations and their teams, no matter how big or small.


-  Source: Stid, D. and Bradach, J.  2009: 36.

So what are some of these leadership competencies?  Leaders firstly need to know themselves – they need to be aware of what they are about, what makes them tick, what pushes their buttons.  They then have to know the individuals with whom they are working and ensure that their teams are ‘doing the right things right’, if they want to continue making a difference and serve their beneficiaries as best possible.  In the process, they are likely to experience obstacles and conflict, and have to make some tough choices. While team diversity presents exciting opportunities for development and growth, it also has its challenges, since everyone is different and needs to be managed accordingly – it is not one size fits all.   A leader must therefore be able to appreciate the individual circumstances of team members; they must understand the context in which their followers operate in order to pick up cues as to how to manage them effectively.  Being clear about roles and responsibilities and being able to delegate and hold people accountable, whether they are full-time employees, receive stipends or are volunteers, is crucial especially since resources are so scarce. 

Besides managing a team of followers, leaders have to facilitate engagements with their other stakeholders such as board members, donors or funders, beneficiaries, partners or collaborators, etc. For this they need to have good interpersonal skills, be able to communicate effectively, tap into opportunities and pre-empt potential problem areas.  Leaders therefore have to be on a life-long journey of growing and strengthening their ability to facilitate change and all kinds of stakeholder relations.

The NPO Leadership and Strategy Programme offered by USB-ED offers participants the opportunity to develop some of these key competencies.  Two of the things participants who attend the programme get quite excited about are the different lenses and tools that they have the opportunity to engage with.  The lenses allow them to analyse situations more meaningfully and rigorously, while the tools allow them to design appropriate responses.   During the week-long programme – which is really a journey of discovery – participants get the opportunity to hone in on and strengthen their facilitative leadership skills. 

Since the NPO Leadership and Strategy Programme is so closely aligned with the outcomes of the Transformational Leadership Programme of The Coca Cola Africa Foundation in partnership with The Africa America Institute, these organisations are sponsoring the next three NPO Leadership and Strategy Programmes at USB-ED.   As a result, the fees for programme participants are highly subsidised.  The first of these programmes takes place from 4 to 8 March 2013. We therefore invite all NPO leaders to come on the programme in order to gear up and lead with strategic intent.  

Stid, D. & Bradach, J. 2009. How visionary nonprofit leaders are learning to engage management capabilities. Strategy and Leadership, 37(1), 35-40.
Daniels, D.M. 2011. Coaching: An effective way to transfer learning and strengthen the capacity of non-profit organisation leaders.  University of Stellenbosch.



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