Who Makes the Best Nonprofit Manager?
If you read my posts for any length of time, you will learn that I love sports. Growing up in West Virginia in the 1960s, one had few choices for sports. I primarily played baseball, football and basketball, and I usually played several positions. I felt that I could be used as a utility player.
According to Wikipedia:
In sport, a utility player is one who can play several positions competently, a sort of jack-of-all-trades. Sports in which the term is often used include football, baseball, rugby, rugby league, water polo, softball and track.
On my high school baseball team, which won the conference championship, I typically played third base and caught when we played doubleheaders. In an important sectional tournament game, I was assigned to play first base. It was the only time I played that position all year. I was excited to play the position and knew I would play it well because I could adapt quickly to changes in scenarios.
I also apply that same confidence to my nonprofit work. I truly believe a utility player makes a better nonprofit manager. What do I mean by that?
At present, I am trying fill a divisional grants and research specialist position. The former employee in this position recently moved on to another job. While I am quickly seeking to fill the position, guess who is filling in for this task? You are looking at him. While it is not easy to understand the former employee’s process and methodology, I can rely on the fact I have been responsible for research and grants in my former life.
I enjoy research and grants. It is fun to find answers to questions and put pen to paper. The challenge is the process of doing several grants at the same time. Because I have been a utility player previously, I understand how to fill in for the short term and what to look for in the next hire. If I had not had this experience, the margin for error in finding a bad hire and sloppy work between hires would greatly increase.
I have been blessed in my work career to direct a number of programs. Here are some examples of the positions I have held:
- Director of annual gifts (responsible for direct mail, special events and new methods for fundraising)
- Director of development services (responsible for computerization of records, systems and processes)
- Director of major gifts (responsible for major-gifts programs)
- Director of planned gifts (responsible for planned-gifts programs)
- Director of foundation relations (responsible for foundation programs and research of prospects, etc.)
- Director of corporate relations (responsible for corporate programs, corporate relations, etc.)
- Vice president of development (responsible for administration of total development program)
- President of foundations (responsible for administration of total foundation program)
The point of this post is simple. If you make a career in the nonprofit profession and eventually want to lead an organization, seek to work in a variety of positions along the way. You will learn many techniques and strategies that will serve you well as you wear many hats. Then, at the point in time when you lead the overall program, you will be in the best position to direct because you have “been there and done that” in every facet of the organization. There is no substitute for experience.
Unfortunately, in our field, job turnover is continuous. When you lead a team, you have to understand job transitions will be a way of life.
Think about your nonprofit career. How many times did you go through an entire fiscal year without someone coming or going? When this happens, you may have to fill in for someone while the job search continues. Your stress level may increase and confusion may reign for a time. But if you are a utility player, you will take these challenges in stride and become a better nonprofit manager.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.