At the beginning of each telephone survey, (see appendix), every participant—without exception—emphasized the significance of establishing and maintaining a reputation of credibility prior to pursuing a partnership opportunity. Credibility – being worthy of trust – is the primary foundation upon which long-term relationships with potential partners can be built.
Historically, nonprofits have stayed in a reactive, responsive role, often categorized for good work in a specific service niche (Whitaker & Drennan, 2007). In recent years, nonprofits have gradually earned a reputation as an obvious first choice to share the burden of resolving complex quality-of-life issues that face society as a whole (Bryson, Crosby & Stone, 2006). There are circumstances where municipalities and big business recognize the resources that nonprofits can bring to the table to garner support and maximize community impact (Whitaker & Drennan, 2007). In these cases, the choice to bring the nonprofit to the table is a reflection of specific leadership characteristics that are recognized and valued by potential partners.
In 2012, Jeff Andresen authored a white paper that specifically explores these specific leadership characteristics. Utilizing data from three comprehensive case studies, “Influencing Social Change: Getting a Seat at the Table” offers four primary messages to the reader:
- Specific leadership skills are required for nonprofit leaders to get a seat at the table where social change is affected.
- Three examples of leadership styles that demonstrate superior performance and an extraordinary ability to galvanize support for social change.
- Barriers for nonprofit leaders to attain superior leadership skills.
- Solutions for nonprofit leaders to attain and master superior leadership skills.
The pioneers highlighted within these case studies significantly raised the public perception of nonprofit organizations with regard to driving social change that resulted in significant, efficient and tangible community benefit. Their success can be attributed to the superior mastery of a singular or blended leadership style, deeply rooted in a guiding principle and primary motivation, along with the ability to effectively demonstrate the value he or she provided to address the social issue at hand. Leaders with these attributes are unique.
While many nonprofit leaders may strive to sit at the table, providing input on public policy and social issues, many do not possess the inherent skills universally recognized by others. Without leaders who have mastered these skills, the role of the nonprofit as a key partner for influencing social change will not exist or will be significantly marginalized. Bottom line: the perception of a leader’s ability to bring benefit to a partnership is the basis for credibility and ultimately, participation.