Top Ten Lessons Learned in Nonprofit Management

I’ve been with Catholic Charities of the East Bay for almost nine months, and it seems like just yesterday when I started. Every day, I get the pleasure and privilege of working with some of the most compassionate and capable staff that I have ever worked alongside. Every day, I also get to help make a positive impact and real difference by helping children, youth, and families move from Crisis to Stability to Prosperity. It’s been wonderful.

Facing the challenges of the future as a team

Catholic Charities of the East Bay leadership

We’ve certainly had our share of challenges in the last nine months, but we’ve also achieved many exciting successes, including setting a clear direction with measurable goals, creating action and energy, hiring new staff to meet the growing demand, and adding many new processes to help us become more effective. These accomplishments have laid a solid foundation for our future successes.

Through all of this, I continue to learn about the art and science of leadership, and how they apply to a social service agency. I seem to learn more from my failures than I do my successes, and it’s a never-ending process of studying, doing, reflecting and more studying, doing, and reflecting.

I would like to share just some of what I continue to learn about nonprofit leadership. So here’s my ten lessons learned in a David Letterman-like fashion…

10. When it comes to mission, values, standards, and accountability – it’s okay to be obsessed.

9. Most problems come from systems and processes, not people. People show up every day to do their very best.

8. Office politics can be good while office drama is not good. Eliminate drama.

7. Be a great listener – this is one of the most powerful things a leader can do.

6. It’s not about strategy, it’s about execution, monitoring, and measurement.

5. Be comfortable in ambiguity, a little bit of chaos, and imperfection.

4. Be daring, innovate, and embrace failure.

3. I don’t believe in empowering or motivating employees – they are responsible to empower and motivate themselves. Hire the right people and motivation is not an issue. Just don’t de-motivate them. Create a warm, safe, and nurturing environment where employees thrive and do what they do best.

2. Never forget please and thank-you. Respect and appreciation go a long way.

And the #1 lesson learned: Be grateful and humble and realize that all that you know is not because of you but because of someone else.

With kindest regards until next time,


I invite you to come and see how our commitment to Catholic social service is transforming more lives than ever. Our Transforming Lives Tours are on the second and third Thursday of every month at our main office located on 433 Jefferson Street, Oakland. Please contact Debra Gunn at (510) 768-3142 or to attend.