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Assertiveness for Nonprofit Executives

By Executive Service Corps (ESC) | Published August 2019

It is exceptionally challenging for nonprofit executives to balance the need to work with and for their nonprofit leadership with the need to advocate for themselves and the organization's mission. This balancing act is further complicated when nonprofit executives are interacting with donors and board members. Cultural differences can also impact the interpretation of behavior as assertive, passionate, or aggressive.

Are you assertive? Ask yourself if these statements apply to you.

  1. I defend my rights without infringing those of others.

  2. I’m not afraid to give my opinion, even when facing hostile interlocutors.

  3. I don’t think that manipulation is an effective solution. 

  4. I communicate with others based on trust rather than domination or calculation. 

  5. I’m comfortable with face-to-face interactions. 

  6. I can express unpopular opinions which may respectfully upset others in the service of building mutually supportive relationships. 

  7. I’m not afraid to express what I’m feeling. 

  8. In case of disagreement, I look for realistic compromises on the basis of mutual interests. 

  9. In an argument, I prefer to put my cards on the table. 

  10. I know how to protest effectively in general, without excessive aggression. 

  11. In general, I present myself as I am, without hiding my emotions. 

  12. I’m able to be myself, while being socially accepted at the same time. 

  13. Public speaking does not intimidate me. 

  14. I’m a good listener, and I don’t interrupt people when speaking. 

  15. I always go to the end of what I have decided to do.

Here are some assertiveness tips for nonprofit executives:

  • Listen first. Don't presume motives or understanding that are not explicitly verbally expressed. Reflect what you hear to verify knowledge.

  • Aim for being positive and honest. If you need to address an area of conflict, do so with care, compassion, and calculation.

  • Recognize that it is okay to agree to disagree.

  • Wait for cool tempers before discussing potentially sensitive things.

  • Use "I" statements.

  • Don't let old or adjacent issues become part of the current discussion.

  • Remind yourself that your voice is valuable. 

  • Remember that both board members and staff members need training and continuous effort to communicate successfully and work together. 


Free assertiveness resources and training:

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