Nonprofit Leadership: Making a Difference

ACTimBoldingAwardOur 21 years of experience have taught us that when you invest in building great nonprofit leadership, you invest in building a stronger community.  Effective leaders not only make a difference in their own organizations but also in the communities and the people they serve.  As Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky said in their book, Leadership on the Line, “Exercising leadership is a way of giving meaning to your life by contributing to the lives of others.”

Over the years, the Alliance has recognized ten defining characteristics of strong leaders:

  • A passion for the cause and the ability to keep the organization focused on advancing its mission, always looking at the bigger picture.
  • An inspiring motivator, encouraging others to be the best they can be at accomplishing their work.
  • Analytical, objective and strategic, with the ability to step back from a situation and make rational decisions based on fact and free of bias.
  • Honest, humble and willing to listen to employees at all levels of the organization.
  • Courageous, tenacious, and patient, not afraid to stand alone, succumb to pressure and keep moving forward toward the organization’s goals.
  • Responsible—the first to accept the blame and the first to spread the accolades.
  • Relationship builder, embracing the idea of a networked nonprofit, letting the world in as fully engaged partners.
  • Articulate in communicating both internally and externally.
  • Adaptive to the environment, challenging long-held beliefs, embracing learning and risk taking as fundamental competencies.
  • A focus on impact and outcomes.

At our eighth annual conference on May 1st, it was the Alliance’s distinct honor to recognize a Mid-South nonprofit leader who exemplifies these characteristics. Tim Bolding, Executive Director of United Housing, was presented our first Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership award for his passion, tenacity and continuous efforts to champion affordable housing in Memphis for more than 30 years.  Tim works everyday to make United Housing the best it can be at serving its clients and closely follows his own rules of leadership – check your ego at the door, being right is irrelevant and take what you have to make what you need to get what you want.

Beginning his career as an intern in the Shelby County Office of Intergovernmental Relations, Tim took the initiative to write a grant that led to the creation of the county’s first Department of Housing.  After serving as the department’s first administrator for a number of years, he became the Executive Director of the Memphis Multibank Community Development Corporation and oversaw the development of a United Way grant, which initially funded United Housing.  Under Tim’s leadership the past 18 years, United Housing has counseled more than 6,800 individuals and families and facilitated the purchase of more than 2,500 homes in Memphis and ShelbyCounty.

United Housing is a graduate of the Alliance’s Program for Nonprofit Excellence.  Upon entering the program, Tim is remembered as saying that he had no interest in working with or partnering with other organizations—it was just too much trouble.  Going through the PNE process, Tim recognized the importance of being a networked organization. Over the past ten years, he has helped to spearhead numerous partnerships in the Memphis community and across the state of Tennessee, which have included both nonprofit and for-profit partners. These partnerships have had a collective impact of over $300 million in housing development in our community.

What qualities do you think make someone a strong leader?  Tell us what you think in the comments section below.


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