The executive director of a non-profit organization wears many hats. To be effective, an executive director needs to wear them all equally well. At any given moment, an executive director needs to change hats according to the direct needs of the organization. The hats that an executive director of a non-profit wears are leadership, management, fundraising, communications, planning, strategizing, marketing, problem-solving, and often, whatever else comes his or her way.
Leadership styles have a huge impact on how well executive directors carry out their duties. Committed executive directors evaluate their own leadership styles and seek input from others.
Leadership and Management Require Different Skills
Leadership and management are two important duties of an executive director, and there are distinct differences between them. Leaders have visionary qualities who give scope to the organization’s problems and planning. They are charismatic communicators who rev up their troops in anticipation of achieving big dreams for the organization.
Managers are the doers. They manage people, property, and assets towards fulfilling the goals that management and the board of directors set before them. They are the busy bees who organize, control and monitor the day-to-day activities of the operation.
In addition to leading and managing a non-profit organization, the executive director must also have strengths in the areas of fundraising and communications.
Think of an executive director of a non-profit organization as being the “jack of all trades and master of all.”
Evaluating the Executive Director’s Leadership Style
Beyond having the necessary skills, people need to be willing to follow the executive director’s leadership. One of the best things that executive directors can do to improve their own performance is to evaluate their personal leadership styles. Is the executive director’s leadership style effective within the organization? Does it allow for good collaboration with the board of directors? Is it a fit with vendors, funders, and other community stakeholders?
There are many different leadership styles. Here’s a quick rundown on the three main types of leadership styles:
- Authoritarian-leadership with major decision-making capabilities. This style is best for organizations that are rebuilding or in transition, where they need a strong leader.
- Participative-leader consults with the board and committees before making decisions. This style works well for organizations that are building a workforce of funders and volunteers.
- Delegative-leader’s role is primarily one of coaching and supporting. This leader knows the skills and talents of members and volunteers and is willing to delegate responsibilities.
Executive directors may combine one or more leadership styles as the needs of the organization change. An important quality is to re-evaluate and adjust leadership styles and be open to feedback from members, volunteers, stakeholders, and the board.
Leadership and Management Duties
While leadership and managerial duties are separate and distinct, they often go hand-in-hand.
As the senior leader of a non-profit organization, the executive director serves as ex-officio member of all committees. The term ex-officio means by virtue of an office. This means that the executive director is automatically a member of every committee by virtue of his or her title. Executive directors may take a more active role on some committees than others, but they should have some involvement in all of them.
Depending on the size of the organization, the executive director may lead and develop a senior management team. The executive director collaborates with the board of directors and the management team to carry out the decisions of the board.
One of the most visible, and perhaps, fun leadership duties of being a non-profit executive director is to energize and engage volunteers, partners, and funders. Creating excitement about the organization is a strategic part of making progress.
Unless the non-profit organization is very small, the executive director will have a staff of people who manage administrative and human resource tasks. The executive director oversees hiring, firing, maintaining records, compliance, and other administrative duties. The director is also responsible for overseeing fundraising and ensuring sound financial practices.
As part of the managerial duties, the executive director needs to ensure that programs and services are excellent and in keeping with the organization’s long-term goals. An organization that makes timely, consistent progress is reflective of a strong executive director.
Fundraising and Communications
The executive director takes center stage with a non-profit organization’s fundraising efforts, where there is a role for expanding fundraising efforts. Executive directors use their presence to garner new opportunities, promote stronger branding, and cultivate relationships with potential funders, using a charismatic and vivacious manner.
Today’s non-profit organizations are meeting their stakeholders in person and all over social media. Executive directors need to be well-rounded communicators as they promote the organization at events, in promotional materials, and on social media outlets.
Qualifications for a Non-Profit Executive Director
Whether the organization is a fledgling start-up or a community staple, non-profits are wise to choose their executive directors with care. The reputation of the organization is continually at stake.
With rare exceptions, executive directors should have at least ten years’ experience in a management role. Preferably, they should hold an advanced degree, and it’s even better if the degree is a Master’s of Business Administration.
A quality candidate for an executive director will have a proven track record of managing people, developing high-performance teams, managing budgets, and achieving goals. An executive director must feel as comfortable speaking in public as writing about the objectives and success of the organization. More importantly, the director must communicate passion and excitement for the organization’s mission in public messages.
An executive director with excellent interpersonal skills offers high value in the non-profit world. The director collaborates with a wide range of stakeholders, many of which include diverse groups and cultures, and it’s important for the director to be able to collaborate, connect, and leave a good impression. Look at an executive director candidate’s past successes in relationships and collaboration with prior boards of directors to assess the candidate’s level of skill in this area.
Some Final Thoughts on Non-Profit Executive Director Duties
Being an effective, admirable non-profit executive director obviously, has to do with how well the director carries on the duties of the role. Character qualities are equally important. A good executive director is also Action-oriented, entrepreneurial, adaptable, innovative, and self-directed.