Behind the Scenes as an Interim Executive Director

After three months of interim executive director work, I have learned a lot, been surprised by a few things, and generally enjoyed the work and felt like I was contributing. Below are the details of both positions.

My first interim position at Community Action of Nebraska (CAN) was an easy transition. CAN provides technical assistance and training to the nine Community Action Agencies across the state. While those nine agencies provide a wide range of direct services, CAN doesn’t provide direct assistance, and only has four permanent staff positions. At the beginning of my position, I was able to train with the outgoing executive director for two weeks, and learn all the ins and outs of her work. I’m glad that the CAN board hired me quickly to allow for this training. I then managed the organization for six weeks, keeping everything running smoothly. Finally, I trained the new ED intensively for two weeks and now have moved into a mentoring role with weekly meetings, for around a month.

I would have transitioned out of the position at CAN on a slower timeline, but I was asked to take on a second interim position at the Northeast Family Center as soon as possible. The Northeast Family Center operates an Early Learning Center in a converted elementary school, and also runs two Community Learning Centers (before and after school programs). For those that know me well, running a child-focused organization is outside my past experience, but it is working out well, as I’ll explain below.

What have I learned thus far? There are a lot of transferable skills as an executive director which is something I assumed, but had never put to the test. At Community Crops, where I was the executive director for eleven years, I was responsible for managing federal grants from the USDA. At CAN, the federal grants were through DHHS, but had many similar regulations and requirements for reporting. In all three positions, I am responsible for reporting to a board of directors that oversees the organization. While the boards differ in their membership, they all share the challenges of board members who are busy with work and personal responsibilities, and who have limited time and energy for the organization, despite their strong commitment. Finally, at all three organizations, like any nonprofit or business, I manage staff and help them improve their skills and do their job better.

A CAN staff member told me that he was impressed at how quickly I was able to pick up all the tasks of my job. I appreciated him telling me that, but I also explained how I had performed many of these same tasks in the past and that I found a lot of overlap in duties leading nonprofits.

I have been surprised to find my computer science background coming in handy for both of my interim positions. CAN had an outdated, poorly-functioning website, and I was able to select a designer and draft the new site while I was there. At NFC, old computers and a slow internet connection are high on my priority list to improve as it is challenging for staff to get anything accomplished.

There is certainly a number of differences between an organization that manages community gardens, one that doesn’t provide direct services, and one that provides day care and after school programs. I have to quickly learn new subject matter at each organization, so that I can at least understand the challenges they face. Thankfully, though, each organization has strong staff who take care of the day to day programs, ensuring that I don’t need to know all the minutiae of child care regulations or managing a state wide database. I certainly worried that I didn’t have the technical expertise to manage an organization far outside my experience, but I am finding that with good staff, that isn’t an issue.

Other differences I have found:

  • How stable are the funding sources? An organization that receives regular funds every year can plan for that income and make choices that are better for staff morale and productivity.
  • How experienced is the board? Having board members who are themselves in the nonprofit field means they will have a much better understanding of the work of the ED, but does bring up more conflicts of interest, as an executive director of an organization is not able to fundraise as much for another nonprofit.
  • What staffing level and experiences are available? Are staff trained for their jobs? Are there enough staff for the obligations the organization has? Is there sufficient administrative staff to provide back end support for the organization or should that be outsourced?

Overall, being an interim executive director is challenging but rewarding work. I’m leaving the organizations I serve in better positions to carry out their mission, while learning new skills in the process. If your organization needs an interim executive director in Lincoln, Nebraska, contact me at or 402-730-2532.

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