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Having A Purpose Vs Leading With Purpose

Having a Purpose and Leading with Purpose — Is There a Difference?

Leading with purpose is a topic everyone is talking about, mainly because it is a topic that has evolved as a way to drive a more significant impact. Your nonprofit’s purpose should be essential to your board because your donors and benefactors are taking notice of it.

Technology has given consumers and third parties multiple tools to drive their own experience with your nonprofit. Donors, vendors, beneficiaries, and anyone who interacts with your nonprofit is not only looking more diligently at what your nonprofit does; they’re looking at why you are doing it and whether you’re leading with your nonprofit’s mission or purpose.

Your nonprofit’s mission states your purpose, and while your board members should be well acquainted with it, are you confident they’re using your mission as a springboard to lead with purpose?

You may not have thought about it, but there is a difference between having a purpose and leading with purpose. To help un-muddy the waters, we’ll clarify what leading with purpose means, explain why it’s important, and outline the differences between having a purpose and leading with purpose.

What Does Leading with Purpose Mean? 

Nonprofit organizations have brands just as corporations do. The way you manage your brand reflects your brand’s reputation.

Does your board believe your decisions and the innovations you support align with your mission, values, and strengths? Are you sure your board prioritizes your nonprofit’s purpose and values over other issues whenever you decide on an important issue?  

Leading with purpose, also commonly called “knowing your why,” means every board member knows your nonprofit’s purpose and makes it a priority on every issue. By sharing your nonprofit’s purpose as a central component to every board discussion, it will inspire the same values in all members of your board, and they will begin doing the same. The result will manifest a lasting, positive impact on your nonprofit’s organizational culture.

Why Leading with Purpose Is Important

Today’s consumers, employees, and volunteers are more interested in patronizing organizations and companies that positively impact society. Simply put, they want to interact with brands that share their same values.

Employees and volunteers get greater enjoyment out of working with a nonprofit whose purpose is clear and visible. Leading with purpose is a viable way to increase employee happiness and retention, and your volunteers will also be more greatly engaged. 

Outside of your nonprofit, leading with purpose will increase the loyalty of community members and other stakeholders, and they’ll spread the good work your nonprofit does to others. 

The reverse is true as well. Donors, stakeholders, employees, and volunteers will notice how your nonprofit treats its employees, environment, and community, and they will avoid interacting with nonprofits that don’t meet their expectations.

Overall, leading with purpose is a more ethical way of doing things, and it holds more significant meaning for everyone all the way around.  

What Is the Difference between Having a Purpose and Leading with a Purpose?

Have you ever stopped to consider the initial reasons you got involved with your nonprofit? Likely, you felt motivated to dedicate yourself to a cause that’s way beyond anything you could do on your own. Being involved with a nonprofit allows you to impact on a much grander scale. When you act on the most special purposes to you, you get greater meaning out of life. Your purpose fuels your motivation and gives you direction.

By contrast, you can choose to hold onto a purpose and do nothing more. If you choose not to share it with anyone, you don’t lose anything, but you don’t gain anything either. When you can’t find the meaning in something you thought you believed in, it can cause you to feel unmotivated and lost.

Steve Rose, an addiction therapist, says when people can’t find meaning, it’s hard to be resilient, and it causes suffering on some level. In his practice, he notes that people who lack a belief in their purpose react in one or more of the following ways:

  • Conform to others
  • Seek fleeting pleasures
  • Demonstrate superiority over others

Obviously, those aren’t traits that are conducive to good governance or productive board meeting discussions. Moreover, they certainly won’t resonate with today’s consumers or stakeholders.

Leading with purpose requires board members to have a sense of self-awareness. How self-aware are your board members? Do they know what drives them and how their drivers cause them to respond to others?

Leaders who are self-aware and purposeful are proactive. They are clear on why they are in the boardroom and what they need to accomplish. Self-aware board members are confident of their values and how those values align with your nonprofit’s mission.  

Rose offers up three suggestions for building your sense of purpose, including:

  1. Being useful to yourself
  2. Being useful to your family members and friends
  3. Being useful to the greater society

To serve on your board to the best of your ability requires you to make a connection between your purpose and your chosen nonprofit’s core mission (which is its purpose). When the two come together, it’s a powerful thing!

While all this is valid, serving on a nonprofit board that leads with purpose is not for the faint of heart. Nonprofit board members bear many burdens and responsibilities, and they face continual challenges. Leading with purpose supports board members by giving them the strength to persevere and be resilient.

To sum things up, are you confident that each of your board members understands your collective “why”? As leaders, it’s essential to keep your nonprofit’s mission close and make decisions only in ways that genuinely support it.

Leading with purpose gives your cause a greater, louder voice because many voices resound louder than a single, solitary voice.

Leading with purpose also naturally speaks to the integrity of your nonprofit, giving it much more meaning for your board members, community, donors, and stakeholders. Finally, with a purpose-driven mindset in your boardroom, word of the excellent work your nonprofit does will surely spread organically, and your followers and supporters will increase by leaps and bounds.


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Theresa Sintetos

Content Strategist and Operations Manager with six years of growth in the same company, moving up from social media specialist to executive strategy and director of operations. Skilled in research, writing and editing broad range of content.

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