There are a variety of challenges that nonprofits encounter that other businesses don’t, and to gain further insight, MBA@UNC — UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program — performed a series of interviews with female leaders of nonprofits. Here, we’ll hear advice from two: Amy Palmer, the president and CEO of Soldiers’ Angels, a nonprofit that provides aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, their families, and a growing veteran population; and Jennifer Windsor, the CEO of Women for Women International, a nonprofit that works directly with women who are isolated and displaced in post-war regions of the world.

An Insider’s View

To access an insider’s view about issues unique to nonprofits, we specifically asked Palmer and Windsor two key questions, and here’s what they had to say:

What is the most difficult part and what is the most rewarding part of leading a nonprofit?

Amy Palmer:

The most difficult part of leading a nonprofit is the constant changes in the donor landscape. While you often want to control situations, it’s hard to control how a donor will respond and behave. Situations like natural disasters and economic downturns dramatically affect a donor’s behavior and direction.

The most rewarding part of the job is serving military families and veterans. When you get to spend every day of your life serving others, it gives you a reason to go to work. I feel like my life has meaning, and I am exactly where God wanted me to be.”

Jennifer Windsor:

The best part of my work is knowing that we are having a direct and positive impact on the lives of women all over the world. Hearing their stories of what they have overcome and what they dream of achieving is inspiring.

We are continually enrolling women in our program, but our ability to do this depends on the generosity of our supporters. Knowing that our ability to raise funds has a direct impact on our programs, and the number of women who are able to access these critical trainings, is a continual motivation to find new ways to grow our supporter base.

Within the past few years it has been increasingly difficult to witness the rise of violence and attacks on women and girls around the world — from Isis in Syria and Iraq, to Boko Haram in Nigeria, and others. For the women we serve, it places even greater obstacles in their way, and can disrupt their entire lives. It can be incredibly challenging for our country office staff too, who live in the same communities and experience the same security concerns. Ensuring the safety of our staff and the women in our programs is our top priority.”

What challenges do nonprofits encounter that other businesses do not?

Amy Palmer:

I believe the biggest challenge we encounter that some other businesses do not is the level of accountability we have to many different people. We are accountable to those we serve, as well as to thousands of donors around the country. Every decision we make is based on ensuring we do the right thing for everyone involved, and that means being held accountable to thousands of people each and every day.”

Jennifer Windsor:

Because we work in countries that are going through conflict or struggling to recover from war, we tend to hear a lot of terrible news from the places where we work. Our job and our challenge is to inspire hope and to remind people that we cannot give up, and that their support can have a direct, positive impact. The headlines don’t tell the full story, and in fact, there are many inspiring women working to make these countries and communities better. We share their stories on our website, on social media, wherever we can to remind people that the situation is not hopeless.”

Hurdles for Nonprofits

Palmer and Windsor cite just a few of the unique challenges that nonprofits face. As for any business, knowing what to avoid is just as important as knowing what to do. In a recent article in Nonprofit Quarterly, “10 Ways to Kill Your Nonprofit,” the authors dig into some of the most critical mistakes that leaders of nonprofits can make — including overwhelming it with liabilities, dehumanizing donors, underinvesting in volunteers, and perhaps the one that best summarizes them all: “Thinking that ‘good’ is good enough.”

A well-worn proverb says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; most assuredly, the road to nonprofit demise is paved with the same bricks. The world holds lots of worthy causes, often competing for the same revenue dollars. Your cause will stand out only when you can demonstrate your success. Not only will your cause not sell itself, the retention of donors and contracts may hinge on your ability to prove that you are accomplishing what you say you want to accomplish.”

Even with the unique challenges that they face, nonprofits share a common goal of making the world a better place. By knowing what challenges may lie ahead, you’ll be better prepared to tackle them — and succeed in the mission that drives your organization’s efforts.