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Fueling Innovation Through Transformational Leadership

Social-good leaders across the country face many of the same challenges. It might feel like there is never enough time, money, or staff to accomplish all of your goals. Economic and social conditions shift without warning and revised government policies impact your programs. The good news is that there are ways to create meaningful change and help your nonprofit thrive in the face of adversity. One way is through practicing transformational leadership.

Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership

Though leaders come from many different backgrounds and skill sets, experts often break leadership styles into two broad categories: transactional and transformational.

The word transactional invokes images of buying and selling, such as in a business transaction. With transactional leadership, there is an expectation of giving and receiving. A team member fulfills an assignment and then expects something in return, even if it is just receiving public praise. Transactional leadership relies heavily on extrinsic motivation as well as defined roles and leadership structures.

Transactional leadership has many strengths. It provides predictability and clear chains of command in the face of chaos, which is why the armed forces lean heavily towards this leadership style. But transactional leadership thrives by maintaining the status quo. If you are striving for innovative solutions, you need transformational leadership.

The word transform does not just mean to change, it means to “make a thorough or dramatic change.” Transformational leaders seek to innovate and upend the status quo as they work to make improvements. This type of leader looks at both short-term and long-term goals as they help their organization achieve its mission.

One major factor that differentiates transformational leaders from transactional is in how they motivate their teams. Where transactional leaders focus on external reinforcements, transformational leaders work to inspire their people by helping them see the value of what they do. At its best, transformational leadership produces teams filled with individuals who become intrinsically motivated to create lasting solutions.

This is one area where transformational leadership can be uniquely effective in the social-good sector. Whether your nonprofit’s mission involves creating economic opportunity, providing educational resources, or promoting equitable healthcare, you work to make people’s lives better. There is immense value in what you do. You just need to help your people see it.

Transformational Leadership in Action

Each year, the online publication NonprofitPRO recognizes leaders and team members in the social-good sector who have a “profound impact on making the world a better place.” Two of their recent recipients embody the strengths of transformational leadership.

Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project, received recognition as the 2021 Nonprofit Professional of the Year for his work to end suicide in LGBTQ youth. Suicide is the second highest cause of death among young people in America and LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their peers. Under the leadership of Mr. Paley, The Trevor Project invested in staff, technology, and infrastructure in order to increase access to crisis management resources for at-risk youth. The transformational changes not only led to increased access to critical resources, they helped The Trevor Project weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vanessa Perez was recognized as the 2022 Nonprofit Professional of the Year for her work as the Executive Director of Time for Change Foundation in San Bernardino, California. Ms. Perez discovered that women of color in the San Bernardino and the surrounding area faced double the poverty rate as their white counterparts. To address this discrepancy, Time For Change Foundation teamed up with other resources in the area to address systemic barriers and increase economic opportunity through a entrepreneurship program known as the Black and Brown Opportunities for Profit (BBOP) Business Academy.

Inspire Innovation

Most successful organizations use a mix of transactional and transformational leadership. When effective programs are up and running, you need to maintain defined roles and organizational structure, at least for those specific programs. But when facing uncertain funding or changing community conditions, you need to innovate. Transformational leaders fuel innovation by empowering their people. Nonprofits that lean heavily on transformational leadership are characterized by cultures of intellectual curiosity where team members and volunteers build on each other’s ideas to work towards solutions for complex challenges.

Innovation is one of SureImpact’s core values. We believe that driving social change requires a growth mindset and a commitment to finding new solutions to support those who need it most. We designed SureImpact to support innovative organizations seeking to transform their communities. SureImpact’s case management and outcome tracking tools are designed to help all members of the social-good ecosystem manage, measure, and communicate their social impact while also increasing data capacity for their team members and supporting a high-performing culture.

Learn more about using technology to manage and share your social impact in our free guide “The Ultimate Guide to Impact Measurement.”


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