So, You Want to Be a Nonprofit Executive?
I work constantly with current, former and aspiring nonprofit executives. These individuals have either previously worked in the nonprofit or for-profit arena. I am continually asked about what knowledge and experience is needed to prepare an executive for nonprofit leadership roles. I seek to inform peers and colleagues based upon current research, knowledge gained through the years and assumptions based on facts.
Norwich University notes that individuals need to understand an organization’s structure, needs and goals to be a successful executive. It is important to note that nonprofits have a specific mission, target audiences and strategies. In fact, a nonprofit is dedicated to promoting a social cause and purpose. Success is based on an organization accomplishing its mission in philanthropy. Nonprofits seek revenue primarily from private donations from individuals, corporations, foundations, organizations and associations.
Nonprofits typically reach a diverse audience about their programs and services. Nonprofit administrations and boards are concerned with an array of issues and a culture that is community focused. Nonprofits are registered as 501(c)(3) organizations and provide services as a public good without providing a portion of their earnings to the government. Many individuals who serve at a nonprofit are dedicated and focused volunteers.
Idealist advised potential nonprofit executive directors to connect with current executive directors and secure them as mentors. Surround yourself with supportive people that understand your needs and wants. Make completely sure your nonprofit board is behind you and agrees with your vision.
MPOWR Envision believes executive directors are the keystone for any nonprofit. They must be effective in their jobs and have proficiency in seven key areas. These areas include:
- Being an excellent communicator by being a good listener and knowing when to speak.
- Honing fundraising skills through relationship-building, curiosity, storytelling and friend-raising.
- Pursuit of board meeting success through constant preparation and expectation.
- Put the mission through vision, into a long-term view through goals and completion timelines.
- Technology sophistication for future growth through engagement and collaboration.
- Attract and recruit the best people through development of an organization culture and empowerment.
- Lead, not just manage, through motivation and accountability.
The Gonzalo Law firm reinforces the fact that nonprofit executives must possess certain skills to run a nonprofit successfully on a long-term basis. These skills are fundraising abilities, excellent governance of a board of directors, sound budgeting and accounting principles and practices, development of a compelling array of programs and services to the various publics served by the organization, knowledge and utilization of public policies, stimulating management of volunteers, and management of performance evaluation tools for staff, volunteers and board.
The University of Notre Dame states that nonprofit executives in the future will need to draw expertise from disciplines such as business, fundraising and marketing to be effective. All nonprofit executives must have the administrative skills to lead and manage others. They must understand how to lead a board through knowledge of nonprofit law, strategic planning, board dynamics and governance, just to name a few. The width and breadth of knowledge, experience and abilities for nonprofit leaders to meet the increased demands of their careers continues to grow over time. It is imperative that nonprofits receive annual education and certification to maintain high level proficiencies.
Anyone interested in becoming a nonprofit executive director, CEO or on the leadership team of a nonprofit must be career-oriented. They need to understand how the organization operates internally and comprehend the external forces that affect the organization. They must create and maintain organizational momentum with a relevant strategic plan and have passion for the organization.
Nonprofit executives must be a cultural fit. They must be the right choice for the organization at the right time of its organizational life cycle. The need for nonprofit leadership has never been greater. Society desperately needs nonprofits to help carry the load. As nonprofit leaders, we need to make sure we promote our profession. We also need to strongly encourage those with executive aspirations to continue to take that ever changing and constantly challenging career path.
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.