Being promoted to acting executive director can be an honor but comes with its fair share of stress. You are suddenly taking on a new set of high-level responsibilities while still trying to maintain your existing work. There’s a huge advantage to the organization to temporarily fill a position internally. It is a fairly fast and simple process, but there are significant challenges to overcome.
The nonprofit sector here in Lincoln has many fantastic leaders doing great work. Some are executive directors and program managers, other are committed case workers and fundraisers. How can you be part of this cadre of people? Here are some beneficial tips to become a true nonprofit leader.
Leading for Justice by Rita Sever is well worth reading for anyone who supervises or manages others at a nonprofit. She has put so many nuggets of wisdom into this book. You will get a wide variety of great ideas on how to work with people more effectively, efficiently, and most importantly, in a way that they feel valued and heard.
She addresses every relevant topic for supervising people, including supervising remote staff, dealing with burnout, holding staff accountable, and much more. Some of her advice covers things I’ve learned the hard way, other suggestions were completely new to me. I appreciated her emphasis on making sure you are holding regular one-on-one meetings with staff to make sure everyone feels heard and to clear up problems before they become big issues.
She also shared a lot of good information on the role of HR, at what point an organization needs an HR professional, or at least someone who has that duty formally added to their position. While HR professionals can sometimes emphasize potential legal consequences to actions more than staff want to hear, they are a valuable partner in the health of an organization and the happiness of its staff. HR is someone who is not the boss but is someone people can go to with problems. They are looking out for employees’ well-being and helping train supervisors. All of these important roles are vital to an organization’s success.
Sever weaves in a focus on justice throughout the whole book. She includes many lessons that she has learned along the way as a nonprofit staff member, leader, and consultant. This includes ways to see your own privilege and questions to ask yourself. She also talks about the need to understand the unwritten rules in your workplace so you can examine them more closely and how they might impact those who aren’t part of the group in power.
Leading for Justice is available on Hoopla or at your favorite bookstore.
As organizations begin to plan for succession for the executive director and other key staff, they often realize that the board needs a succession plan as well.
I remember all too well the board meeting when our chair breezed in late and announced this was her last board meeting. She’d changed positions at her company and could no longer serve. None of us expected this news. She’d been a fantastic board chair for the past couple of years. She was involved, brought great ideas, and cared about the mission. Everyone else looked around at each other, with no one willing to step up. Our vice-chair had stated from the beginning that he was unable to put in the time to be the chair. We had no one ready to step up.
Partnering with an outside search consultant to hire the next executive director allows the board to focus on leading the organization, and on choosing the best candidate, rather than getting bogged down in the details of the search. Too often, boards try to do everything themselves, not realizing until it is too late how much time a search takes, and how different it is from a corporate hire. The executive director is the most important position in the organization and putting in the necessary time to get it right will save everyone time and frustration later on.
Engaging Board Members Webinar – recorded August 12, 2020
Every ED and board chair wish that their board did more, but how can you actually make that happen? I share a wide variety of methods from simple changes to your agenda to systemic changes to your whole board structure.
Conducting online surveys can provide a range of valuable information but the most popular survey sites have limitations on their free versions, especially in the number of questions, and the number of respondents allowed. Below are three sites that offer great value on their free plan, and a reasonably priced paid plan. They are listed below along with some of the key features that nonprofits need. Overall it seemed that QuestionPro offered the best options for a completely free version.
The Art of Gathering
How We Meet and Why It Matters
By Priya Parker
After reading this excellent book, I understand much better why some gatherings work, and some don’t. Why a too large room changes the atmosphere of a meeting. Why just allowing people to wander off at the end of a three day retreat feels like such a let down. Whether you are organizing a small get together of friends, or a large conference, this book will help you connect people with each other better.
Priya Parker has organized her share of gatherings and has many lessons to share. She starts by having you think about the true purpose of your gathering. Why do you want to have a birthday party? How can a networking event be more than just that? Can people be encouraged to ask for help with a vexing problem? Have a defined outcome, not just an event because you feel you should have an event.
She then walks through each step of the event. Who you invite to your meeting matters. It is OK to keep the guest list limited, because more people doesn’t necessarily make the gathering better. Think about the location and how it is set up. How can you make a contained space for your gathering? Even a picnic blanket sets a boundary. Net, she talks through being a host and how to have gentle control over the group. You aren’t bossing them around, but you are setting ground rules to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable time. Parker includes much more on creating a good gathering from the opening to the closing.
I’ve certainly been to my share of gatherings where there was no official start or end, and you were left wondering what you should do. At one event I was at recently, the organizers got on the microphone to yell at guests who went back for seconds and tell them they couldn’t do that. It isn’t an event I would return to! On the other hand, at a wedding I attended, the family got most of the guests involved in a fun and easy group dance that connected the broad group of friends and relatives with each other and got everyone up and moving.
Here’s a selection of items to include in the board manual for new board members. Many of these documents you already have. If you find you need to create documents, your current board members will appreciate having them as well, so be sure to share them with everyone. Keep everything brief, but informative.
Consider whether it makes more sense to have these as printed documents, or if you would rather create a shared online area to store them. Every board and board member is different in how they prefer to receive information. Google Drive is a low-cost solution that nonprofits often use for sharing documents.
For large nonprofit organizations, a chief financial officer (CFO) is a critical part of the management team. A CFO provides a high level of financial knowledge, and helps the organization understand their finances on a deeper level, as well as create plan strategically for its financial future.
For smaller organizations, this level of knowledge isn’t affordable. Some organizations are able to hire a CFO on a contract basis for a limited number of hours per month, but for many, even that cost is too high. This means the executive director needs to develop their financial knowledge to help the organization thrive.