Publication Date



Monk Leadership, Non-Profit Leadership, Charitable Organization, Monastery Lessons for Today’s Non-Profit Leaders, 12th Century Leadership Applicable Today


Is it possible that a 12th century monk can teach anything of relevance to today’s non-profit leaders and their organizations? The monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, was an exemplary monastery leader throughout Western Europe. Bernard’s successes during the 12th century could serve as a model for non-profit organizations and their leaders due to the challenges that some non-profit institutions face today. Additionally, a Bernardine model is more applicable in connection between Bernard’s ideas and non-profit organizations since they each have altruistic similarities. One of the similarities is that they both have a “higher-calling” based on core values, whether for God or a greater mission for a community or particular cause. Furthermore, both monasteries and non-profit organizations are not trying to make a profit and mostly have non-paid members that work there. Although they each have non-or-low-paid workers, they still have or should have an organization structure with defined key roles and duties. Between the 12th century and today, there has been an evolution from the understanding and application of Bernard’s ideas that can be leveraged to enhance today’s organizations. This is shown in several of Bernard’s early letters along with commentaries about him and his monastic leadership. Given my thirty-year experience in volunteering for regional and national non-profit organizations I see an opportunity to improve those institutions with applicable aspects from Bernard’s many successes. Bernard’s background, his monastery’s core values, and monastic roles will be reviewed and will help demonstrate that Bernard’s model can be applicable to many of today’s religious and secular non-profit organizations. In conclusion, even though Bernard lived in the 12th century, many aspects of his flourishing monastery can be useful or should be at least considered to elevate today’s non-profit leaders and their organizations. The foremost lessons-learned are from Bernard’s core values and key monastic roles that helped grow the monasteries and ultimately influenced institutions around the world from the 12th century through present day. Furthermore, both religious and secular non-profit groups today can leverage Bernard’s models of core values and structured roles and evaluate if there are applicable areas that could be customized to enhance their institutions. In addition to these Bernardine areas, today’s non-profit leaders could benefit by further exploring Bernard’s other approaches of leading complex global organizations. The other aspects that can be considered are in his monastic models of finance, recruiting, and community relations since Bernard used them also to grow his monasteries. Nevertheless, after a careful understanding of Bernard’s monastic models around core values and structured roles, I have found that their application would clearly help several regional and national non-profit groups. The goal would be to help strengthen those organizations by creating new opportunities so that the groups continue to prosper much like Bernard and his monasteries did in the 12th century.