Nonprofit Executive Director: 3 Essential Activities

posted on July 24, 2019

Perhaps you’re looking at nonprofit executive director jobs for a new opportunity. The chances are you’ve seen some that may have caught your eye. Since the Great Recession of 2008, nonprofit growth has increased.

There are a few reasons for the creation of new nonprofits. Even though many people think there are too many doing the same things, they continue to grow. A reason for nonprofit growth is that the public is much more aware of social responsibility. And, they want to be part of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations making a difference. There’s also heightened awareness for social good. Meaning, creating a nonprofit is a natural way for people to help improve the lives of others.

If you’re a first-time nonprofit executive director, then there are a few things you should know. You want to ensure that you’re doing right by your team and also the community.

Authenticity and transparency are especially important for a nonprofit group.

Nonprofits are tax-exempt. That makes them unique organizations within the United States for tax purposes. The IRS has designated nonprofits as exempt from taxes because it wants to promote philanthropy. Because of this action, the idea of philanthropy is ingrained in our culture.

The digital era has made it easy for people to research nonprofit information. And, people can even share what it’s like to work within a given charity. Also, social media has pushed groups to be authentic. As a result, brands stay away from not being real and genuine to who they are as a group. In other words, technology has promoted transparency.

So, one of your first actions as a nonprofit executive director should be to assess your group’s transparency. One of the ways that you can do this is by making sure that your finances are compliant and in good health. You can also review your bylaws and policies. You should seek to ensure that all your activities have paths for accountability. For instance, you want whistleblower or donor privacy policies. You should also make that your organization is metric and result-driven. That will be necessary for communicating impact to the public.

Take 90 days to get to understand the organization before making significant decisions.

Often when a nonprofit executive director comes aboard, they want to show that they have what it takes. Some begin making big decisions that have consequences. But they do this before they have any chance to understand the group. This type of action is a mistake, and it demonstrates inexperience.

Instead, a new nonprofit executive director should take a breath and observe. Your output will be a plan that you can create within 90 days. But for you to create a plan, you have to understand the organization. That’s true if it’s new or has been around for a long time with a large team. In 90 days, you have the opportunity to see what’s worked. Of greater importance, you understand what hasn’t worked and why.  Understanding history is vital for figuring out new possibilities for the future.

As a new boss to lead a team that has been working together before your arrival, you can help ease the stress. That worry happens in people because most don’t enjoy the unknown. A new boss is a huge unknown, and it can upset the apple cart. Start by saying that you are going to observe and begin planning over 90 days.  Also, provide an opportunity for essential input of information that will inform your work. The best executive directors will ask for leadership (e.g., board members) and staff involvement. Ask them, where do they want to go? Where have they been? What has worked and what hasn’t? Then work with key people on an achievable, but ambitious plan.

Although conversations take time, it’s essential to listen as a nonprofit executive director.

Take the time to speak to everyone. Create a full schedule of meetings that you will begin on your first day in the office. Start with your top team members. They can orient you about how your organization works on the day-to-day. Remember, something that you’ll want to do is get a sense for how things work. You want to know the experiences of the people and how they would change things if they could.

You’ll also want to make it a point to speak to members of your board. Depending on its size, make sure to meet with as many, if not all members, one-on-one. Begin by scheduling meetings with the board chair and committee chairpersons. Also, remember the finance and fundraising chairs. You want to hear what they have to say. You also want them to include any critiques about the nonprofit and how it can get better.

Finally, you also want to have conversations with some of your supporters, including donors. Don’t make the mistake of only speaking with major gift donors. You also want to discussions with smaller gift donors. Your aim with contributors should be to understand how they perceive the organization. Ask them why they got involved. That’s important information. Also, ask how your organization can improve its marketing and fundraising efforts. Remember, they’re your target audience.

Take a thoughtful, strategic, and intentional period to observe and understand. It will earn you goodwill and support from your constituents. By asking opinions and getting folks involved, you’ll succeed as a nonprofit executive director.


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