Leading the Charge in 2021

How to get your team on board with whatever lies ahead in another uncertain year

It’s 2021, y’all. Finally. Can I get an Amen?!

It would be great if the change in calendar brought a clean slate with it. But… no. Far from it, in fact. Many of the challenges that confronted us throughout 2020 are here to stay in 2021. As tempting as it would be to pretend everything will soon be “normal,” that’s also unlikely.

My challenge to nonprofit leaders today is to take a proactive approach in planning for the rest of this year NOW in order to achieve even greater things in 2021. To lead the charge and get your team on board for what lies ahead – whatever that may be! Communicating with your team and together, building a series of responses to overcome any adversity you face.


Under these continuing circumstances, strong leadership is more important than ever. Leading a team can be daunting anytime, but especially now. Leaders must do more than just react as new daily challenges arise… they must think proactively about how to keep up their team’s morale while being nimble and adaptive in their organization’s work.

That means proactively asking key questions. “What if X happens?” Then preparing a response: “If X happens, then we do Y.” But – and this is important – not stopping there! Instead, asking and answering “And then what?” a few more times to get insights on how a response may continue to unfold. “And then what?” is one of the most important questions a leader can ask as they prepare for any year… not just this one.

As a leader, you set a tone of positivity and hope for the year, inspiring your team to greatness. But at the same time, don’t avoid thinking through the “And then what?” questions. Be prepared with answers for situations that are out of your control, like COVID-19 was. Leaders anticipate what may lie ahead now – brainstorming solutions with their team and writing down action plans to draw on when “what if” scenarios come to fruition.


Your team is your most precious resource. If you haven’t read “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, I encourage you to get a copy of his book and take his advice on leadership to heart. To lead the charge by aiming for great… not just being satisfied with good.

A key point in his book is this: The main reason certain companies become great is that they narrowly focus the company’s resources on their field of key competence.

What does that mean for you and your team? Just as you’ve been chosen to serve in your area of ministry, you’ve also been equipped with the gifts you need to carry out that mission. And you’re tasked with surrounding yourself with others who share that passion and are likewise equipped with their own God-given talents. By strategically assembling and guiding your team, continually encouraging everyone to work together toward your shared goal, truly great things happen.

In other words, take a hard look at your organization’s “who” and “what.” Ask why each member of your team is uniquely qualified to do what they do – including yourself. Then, focus on placing each member in their area of key competence so that each becomes a vital piece in taking your efforts from good… to great!


Right now is a great time to remind your team about the “WHY” of what you do. (And in fact, right now may also be a great time to even rethink or rephrase the “why” behind your work.) In order to effectively lead the charge into this new year, good leaders must clearly and consistently communicate:

  • What your mission is…
  • What your vision is…
  • And how those two things differ.

Your mission is your present work. This is the area of key competency you’ve already defined and how you’re going to go about making a difference in the hearts and lives of the people you reach through your daily ministry. Why people rely on you. Why people support you. Why your community would suffer without your programs and services.

Your vision is your goals for the future. How you want to expand upon that area of competency to become stronger and better able to serve your community. Defining your goals and expectations needed to achieve greatness… then getting support to meet or even exceed those targets. Your vision is the positive transformation your work is meant to bring about.

As a leader, it’s your job to communicate both mission and vision to your team, as well as to your donors and your community. The more people understand and internalize these two critical points, the more likely they are to partner with you in leading the charge into a bold new future.


In the past year, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the ways that companies communicate with their audiences. According to a survey conducted by NonProfit PRO, 54% of participants increased their frequency of fundraising and marketing communications in 2020, and 48% increased the number of channels they use to communicate with their donors.

The pandemic was an occasion where a heightened awareness of the need for communication and a greater ability to reach people led to opportunities to speak with donors more regularly and more openly than ever before. And it led to deeper, richer and more connected donors! Now, more than ever before, increased communication is important even amongst internal teams.

As a leader, you must lead the charge in championing frequent communications within your own team. With people working more remotely than before the pandemic, many organizations have developed outstanding ways of regularly communicating, using a variety of channels – email, text message, video calls and Zoom meetings. Now is the time to be incredibly intentional about not allowing the high volume of communication and connectivity with your team to erode… especially post-vaccine when normality is bound to seep back in and old boundaries start to be erected again.

Without knowing what twists and turns the road will take, let’s keep our priorities focused on maintaining outstanding communication with our teams. And not just talking at them, but talking with them to get them excited about and on board with whatever lies ahead.

As leaders, you have great responsibility… and also a great privilege. To shepherd your team into achieving things you once thought were out of reach. To inspire loyalty and ignite incredible progress from your ministry. To lead the charge into the unknown, armed with your faith, your mission, your vision and a promise that the Lord will hold your hand and guide you through it.

Now is not the time to sit back. Isaiah 41:13 (NIV) tells us,

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

So fear not! Let’s boldly be the leaders God has called us to be and use this opportunity to further the Kingdom to His glory.

For more specific strategies on expanding your digital platforms and reaching your online donors, check out these resources from our weekly BDI QuickShot:

  • Michael Tomlinson, BDI CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, better known as “MT,” is the CEO and President of BDI. With more than 25 years of executive leadership in business development and media, MT’s expertise involves leading organizations like Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk and Dunham+Company in the ideation and execution of successful integrated marketing, broadcast and digital media, and fundraising strategies that fuel growth.

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