What a Nonprofit Executive Director Is – and Isn’t

A nonprofit depends on a dedicated board of directors. However, just as important is the leader of any salaried staff, the executive director. The role of executive director is nuanced. Read on to learn what it is… and isn’t!

What the Nonprofit Executive Director IS

The executive director or CEO is where the buck stops for any questions on record keeping or compliance. This is the person responsible for personnel decisions. The executive director keeps the organization energized with creative fundraising campaigns, and is ultimately responsible for the proper handling of the nonprofit’s money.

nonprofit executive director

The duties of a nonprofit executive director further include aligning the outreach work with the long-term goals of the nonprofit entity. To simplify, the role of CEO has three main responsibilities.

1. The executive director is the public face of the nonprofit.

As the senior leader and the public face of the organization, an executive director is a morale builder. To advance, a nonprofit must inspire its people and its prospective donors. The executive director sets the tone at the top, constantly creating a positive buzz. Today’s nonprofit leader is a marketer, interacting with potential collaborators through social media as well as channels and real-life events.

2. An executive director is the chief architect of policies and programs.

To carry out the charitable mission of the organization, the executive director communicates. The director works with staff, creating and managing annual goals. This includes guiding solutions whenever the work hits walls. He or she is the senior manager for all campaigns and programs, the person steering the daily workings of the organization.

3. The executive director is answerable for the financial health of the organization.

In collaboration with the board, the executive director formulates the entity’s strategic plan. This includes carrying out all the event planning and fundraising needed to transform that plan into action. Good leadership means knowing where the finances stand every day. Great leaders anticipate expenses and challenges, articulate the problems clearly and promptly, and proactively plan on-point responses and changes.

What the Nonprofit Executive Director ISN’T

Sometimes, considering what the senior leader is not can help the board guide the nonprofit’s mission gracefully.

1. The executive director is not in charge of the board.

Boards are empowered to avert crises by assessing (and even, if necessary, removing) an executive director. Healthy, strong nonprofits have relationships based on mutual respect, with the board serving in an authentic advisory role.

2. Nor does the executive director routinely wait for the board’s direction.

Granted, it’s not always a clear-cut call between expecting the board’s support and advice (which a great board gives) and rubber-stamping the senior leader’s concepts. An effective nonprofit executive director should proactively make plans and proposals, while still accepting feedback and advice from the board.

3. The executive director isn’t an ascetic.

Finally, if your nonprofit has great leadership, nourish it! The nonprofit board should strive to pay its senior leader a salary roughly commensurate with salaries of others in the region who head nonprofits of the same size.

RELATED: Nonprofit Board Chair: How to Lead to Success

Keep Everyone in the Loop

Communication is key. The nonprofit executive director must keep the board apprised of what the nonprofit is accomplishing right now. This happens through regular communications, and through the dynamic of directors’ meetings. Periodic assessments of the board and CEO help everyone see how healthy the nonprofit culture is.

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