Maximizing your Social Impact: Keys to Success for Nonprofit Leaders

By Michelle Mickle Foster, Ph.D.


I spent 18 years of my life leading a community-based nonprofit organization in Charleston, West Virginia. As a trained chemical engineer, nonprofit management was not my original career but my passion. Even though I was often stressed from working long hours, I earned less than my peers in the for-profit world, and I was constantly in fundraising mode while managing rejections to funding requests; I felt fulfilled. My nonprofit years prepared me for my current career in philanthropy. 

I have captured some keys to success for nonprofit leaders and those thinking of starting a nonprofit. By nonprofit, I mean a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt or charitable organization. According to the Internal Revenue Service, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes to be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Therefore, none of its earning may inure any private shareholder or individual. For example, suppose the organization engages in an excess benefit transaction with a person having substantial influence over the organization. In that case, the IRS may impose an excise tax on the person and any organization managers agreeing to the transaction. 

I learned the strategies that I will be sharing in the coming weeks during my time as a nonprofit CEO. I wish I had this list when I started my career and hope you will find it helpful.

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