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Leadership & Adaptability

Learn about an organization's leadership, strategic planning, and ability to adapt

Leadership & Adaptability Header Image

Leadership & Adaptability beacon

Gain insight into a nonprofit's vision and the steps it commits to achieve that vision

To help donors find forward-looking, strategic, and resilient nonprofits, we've launched the Leadership & Adaptability beacon. The first version of the Leadership & Adaptability beacon is based on nonprofit-submitted information about organizational strategies and stories of adaptation.


In July 2020, we launched the Encompass Rating System so that our ratings are more inclusive of nonprofits of all sizes and provide a more comprehensive assessment of a nonprofit's total impact. Leadership & Adaptability is the fourth and final beacon rolled out as part of Encompass.

Charity Navigator conducted an extensive literature review and consulted with a number of nonprofit and for-profit experts to inform the methodology for the Leadership & Adaptability beacon.

Learn more about the methodology >>

Leveraging Leadership & Adaptability Scores to Inform Giving

Screenshot of Encompass rating

The Leadership & Adaptability beacon equips the millions of donors that utilize Charity Navigator ratings annually with information that further empowers them to assess a nonprofit's strategy for delivering on mission.

Nonprofits will earn a Leadership & Adaptability score based on the amount of information provided in the questionnaire — this beacon accounts for 10% of the overall Encompass rating when Finance & Accountability and/or Impact & Results scores are present.

Note: Organizations assessed through our Star Rating System can earn Leadership & Adaptability beacons, but the scores do not currently affect the overall star rating. However, the Leadership & Adaptability beacon does provide insight into these organization's strategy and leadership.

Nonprofits Sharing Insight into Leadership & Adaptability

At launch, more than 700 nonprofits have earned a Leadership & Adaptability beacon, including these organizations:

How We Assess Leadership & Adaptability

Charity Navigator's Leadership & Adaptability beacon draws upon a vast reservoir of academic and popular literature and lived experience of nonprofit leaders.

Nonprofit leaders were asked to complete a questionnaire, detailing their organization's strategy, leadership, and adaptability.

The nonprofit organization presents evidence of strategic thinking and goal setting.

  • Scoring:
    • What is your organization’s Mission Statement? - 10 pts
      • Open-ended
      • Pull the initial version from 990 and allow editing/revising of the mission statement.
      • Full credit for providing the mission statement.
    • What is your organization’s Vision? - 10 pts
      • Open-ended
    • What are your organization’s 3 most important Strategic Goals? - 20 pts
      • Text boxes to describe 3 strategic goals: open-ended format 
      • Please tell us the primary reason your organization has committed to implementing this goal.
        • Create new program(s) based on observed changes in needs among our constituencies/communities served.
        • Grow, expand, scale or increase access to the existing programs and services.
        • Focus on core programs to achieve mission and scale back on programs not seen as core.
        • Improve the quality of existing programs.
        • Invest in the capacity of our organization (financial, management, technical, etc.). 
        • Commitment to further our advocacy work for our organization and or cause area.
        • Invest in our people through staff development and retention, increase compensation, and/or talent acquisition. 
        • Other

The nonprofit provides evidence of investment in leadership development and mobilizing resources for mission.

  • Scoring:
    • Does your organization invest in leadership development? (Y/N).  15 pts. If Yes - MUST respond to the follow-up question (1) with a description in order to receive any credit. If No- MUST respond to follow-up question (2) with an explanation in order to receive any credit.
    • Describe an investment in leadership development your organization has made over the past 12-18 months.
      • Open-ended
    • We recognize there may be impediments for some organizations that limit or prevent them from investing in leadership development. Please explain why your organization has decided against or been unable to invest in leadership development over the past 12-18 months. 
      • Open-ended
    • How does the leadership of your organization (staff and/or board) focus externally to mobilize for the mission of the organization? 15 pts. (select all that apply)
      • Choices:
        • Engage in strategic partnerships with other nonprofit, public and/or private sector organizations.
        • Participate in networks or collective impact efforts to develop shared goals across multiple organizations.
        • Engage in thought leadership activities such as presenting at conferences, publishing research, etc.
        • Raise awareness of mission and cause through marketing activities, social media, etc.
        • Community building, training and/or organizing
        • Local, state, federal policy advocacy
        • Other
      • Describe your advocacy/mobilization efforts
        • Open-ended 

The nonprofit has an opportunity to tell the story of how the organization adapted to tremendous external changes in the last year.

  • Scoring:
    • Tell us your story of how your organization adapted to external changes in the last year.  30 pts. 
    • If your organization publishes an annual report or uses a digital storytelling tool please upload 

Why Focus on Leadership & Adaptability?

In 2020, Charity Navigator surveyed donors, inquiring about the importance of an organization's leadership capacity and strategic planning. A resounding 96.4% of all survey recipients shared that this was an important factor in determining a nonprofit's performance.

When a nonprofit has an overall community strategy built with external partners, the organization has a stronger probability of solving the underlying issues that its program is aimed at. Additionally, an organization that invests in its leaders on an ongoing basis increases the organization's capacity to execute on strategy. Finally, an organization that can adapt during challenging times (e.g., during a global pandemic) demonstrates its ability to persevere and rise above.


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