Blog / Nonprofits

Competency Models for Nonprofit Inclusive Leadership: Resources for Staff & Board Members

by Leslie Starsoneck
Competency Models for Nonprofit Inclusive Leadership: Resources for Staff & Board Members

The Johnson Center is proud to preview our forthcoming Competency Models for Nonprofit Inclusive Leadership, a paired set of competency models for nonprofit organizational staff and board members. An explanation of the models, how we went about compiling them, and a representation of how these two models are intended to work in tandem are included here. The complete models will be available to the public in May 2021.

These parallel competency models document — through research and validation — the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) associated with effective, inclusive leadership in the nonprofit sector. What connects the two is that, in each case, the listed KSAO is described further in its application for staff members and for board members, in two distinct tracks.
Graphic: Sample table of how the definition and behaviors for organization staff and board members for a particular dimension will be displayed.

Competency Models for the Field of Philanthropy

The Competency Models for Nonprofit Inclusive Leadership are designed to be used to identify, prepare, hire, onboard, and evaluate organization staff and volunteer board leaders. They are also valuable for individuals and teams of practitioners looking to chart their own professional progress and skill-building.

If you follow the Johnson Center’s work, you will recall that in December, we shared a high level preview of our Program Officer Competency Model©, and last month, we released a web-based, interactive version of the full model. That model was designed to similarly impact career pathways and personal development within grantmaking organizations. All three of our models are intended to support a more diverse and inclusive field by redefining how we understand professional qualifications and removing traditional biases.

The models for nonprofit staff and board leadership differ from our Program Officer Competency Model in that we intend to release the former while still in the process of validating its contents. We built this model a little differently. The Program Officer Competency Model is an original work of the Johnson Center — a project we undertook because we did not see comparable models in use across the field. However, there are many good competency models and other frameworks focused on nonprofit leadership already available. What we have done is to take the collective wisdom of many organizations and tools — and our own decades of experience in nonprofit leadership — and integrated it all into two summative and interrelated tracks, with an emphasis on KSAOs that contribute to cultures of belonging.

We therefore wanted to ensure that the validation process is inclusive of the organizations we have drawn from and, ultimately, open to all. We want to know that the Competency Models for Nonprofit Inclusive Leadership make sense to those organizations and to the sector more broadly. We anticipate and expect that the models will be refined and strengthened by you, our stakeholders.

Supporting a More Inclusive Workforce for Philanthropy Through Competency Models

There are a variety of routes to a career in the nonprofit sector. People become leaders by leveraging undergraduate and graduate degrees, working their way up through organizations, and, particularly in the case of board service, through personal and professional connections.

The paths to these positions sometimes leave us with a sector whose leadership is lacking in diversity — especially racial diversity — and by extension, inclusive leadership practices. Because competency models rely on KSAOs, they have the potential to contribute to a stronger, more diverse sector that leads with inclusiveness.

Performance and promotion practices also vary widely in method and quality. We hope that competency models will allow us to align the knowledge and practices we collectively agree make for effective leadership, and, as a sector, to use those benchmarks to prepare, hire, evaluate, and promote leaders.

Many of the sources we relied on while developing the Competency Models for Nonprofit Inclusive Leadership were guided by inclusive leadership principles or explicitly centered equity in their content. We are working to be very intentional in how we center and represent belonging and justice in our own work, and look forward to engaging with all communities to ensure these models live up to that charge, as well.

Make Your Voice Heard

We hope you will join us in our continued journey to identify what makes an effective, inclusive nonprofit staff and board leader. We’re working to organize a series of opportunities for you to share your lived experiences, professional wisdom, and general feedback on our upcoming model. To that end, we invite you to:

Coming Later This Year…

Stay tuned for an exciting announcement about a new micro-credentialing program we’ll be offering through our home institution, Grand Valley State University. Badges in key philanthropic skillsets will be available soon!