Research on what it takes to be a professional CSO leader  

A study on what it takes to be a professional CSO leader




The research discussed what professional skills are required and whether they should be standardised.


On 25 January, qualitative results of research carried out on “Modern CSO leaders: knowledge, skills and competencies” were discussed at the Blagosfer Centre in Moscow.

The study was carried out between December 2021 and July 2022 by the All-Russian Centre for Public Opinion Research and commissioned by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation. Thirty-five interviews were conducted with leading experts from the non-profit sector, together with an online survey of 420 CSO managers from all Russian federal districts.


The ASI published the results of the research last September which discussed what a modern CSO leader looks like and the skills and competencies required to perform the role.


The second qualitative part of the study was based on the views expressed by the interviewed experts. They were asked what knowledge CSO leaders need and how best they can be trained. Based on the results, the Potanin Foundation issued two reports on:


  • Current professional requirements for SONGO leaders;
  • The issue of management skills in the non-profit sector and possible ways in which these can be achieved.


“Our initial conversation on the quantitative part of the research raised many questions that have become the starting point for further discussion. I believe this will give us a more complete picture of who we are and so allow the non-profit sector to develop”, said Oksana Oracheva, CEO of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation.


Requirements for a CSO leader


The study outlined standard and additional requirements for the heads of non-profit organisations, with the results applicable to the first half of 2022, said the researchers.


Basic requirements


  • An understanding of the sector as a whole;
  • A knowledge of their subject area;
  • A knowledge of psychology, building productive relationships;
  • Personnel management skills;
  • Experience in strategic and operational management;
  • A knowledge of legal procedures;
  • An understanding of financial and accounting processes;
  • Fundraising and communication experience;
  • Working effectively with stakeholders;
  • Presentational skills;
  • An ability to manage stress;
  • Knowledge and expertise in conflict management;
  • Loyalty towards the State;
  • On-going education and training (mainly in terms of management);
  • Willingness to take responsibility;
  • Maintaining an ethical approach to business


Additional requirements


  • Design thinking;
  • Strategic thinking;
  • PR, marketing and communication;
  • An ability to work with the State;
  • Highly professional HR management
  • Detailed knowledge of financial issues


The message that the demand for professionalism in CSO leaders is gaining momentum runs through the whole study, says Elena Temicheva, Director for Communications and Strategic Development at the Blagosfer Centre, who moderated the discussion. However, the question arises as to whether CSOs currently have the resources to achieve this.


According to Elena Topoleva, Director of the Agency for Social Information, in turbulent times when external circumstances and people’s moods are changing, the issue of professionalism assumes even greater importance as it affects the ability of a CSO to survive. Those who can cope better with stress and react quickly and flexibly to a particular situation are able to negotiate difficult times more easily.


As a result, a number of leadership qualities are increasingly in demand, e.g. operational and strategic planning, digitisation and fundraising.


How staff are trained


A view was expressed during the research that levels of knowledge should be recognised in some form of documentation such as a diploma or certificate of education.


“If no-one in the sector knows me and I apply for a job showing my diploma saying “teacher”, no organisation will employ me. Clearly having a certificate can be helpful but a job interview is a much better way of forming a view of a person’s abilities and whether he or she is willing to improve their existing skills”, said Tatyana Konstantinova, President of the Con-nection Foundation which supports deaf and blind people.


According to Tatyana, CSO leaders are starting to learn in different ways. Some investigate new sources of information that come into their organisation, while others try to enhance their skills-set in order to find solutions to new problems.


According to many experts who were interviewed during the study, basic training for CSO leaders may be too restrictive. Modular education, a master’s degree or special courses in CSO management may be more appropriate.


The research noted that Russia has seen an increasing number of training programmes and courses aimed at CSOs in recent years. However, these vary greatly both in terms of quality and accessibility. The experts who were interviewed often spoke of the high cost of training

which does not meet CSO requirements, as well as a lack of focus on operational practice and a large number of “useless courses” run by unqualified institutions.


Is there any consensus on the necessary requirements


The research showed that, in general, there is little desire for standardised professional requirements for CSO leaders. There are several reasons for this, e.g. the same demands cannot be placed on many small-scale SONGOs as their work is initially driven not by management but by motivation shown by their staff.


Experts believe that any standards should be informative and advisory. In addition, they should be as generic as possible so that they can be used by the whole sector, regardless of an organisation’s remit. The drivers for these standards should be large donor organisations and CSO leaders.











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