executive director

When you can't defend yourself, your work will protect you?

When you can't defend yourself, your work will protect you?

The work of a non-profit executive director leaves a trail. It might be the work we did last year, the work we did three jobs ago, or the work we did when we first started. As our career takes us to different organizations, we might not always be around to answer questions about how we...


I am not the caterer

I am not the caterer

I remember the programming era pre-COVID, where workshops and gatherings rivalled a red-carpet event. Along with finding the right instructors and the best silliest prizes, we planned elaborate catering and hauled in all our own equipment. As we move to post-COVID home offices the landscape...


The best feeling is when it just works!

The best feeling is when it just works!

Posted in executive director / year end

Being a non-profit executive director is no easy job. I've learned some hard lessons early in my career as I browsed the internet desperately looking for resources, tools, ideas, and solutions. What I found was an overwhelm of information from big-city experts. They had fundraising committees,...


Are you a leader or a manager?

Are you a leader or a manager?

Posted in job description / executive director

Years ago, I came across an article that discussed the difference between a leader and a manager. The author insisted that someone could only be one or the other – there was no middle ground. Back then, the article praised the leader, dismissed the manager, and pushed all my buttons. I was...


Is it too much?

Is it too much?

Posted in executive director / operations plan / staff team

The current year is wrapping up. Planning is well underway for next year. Non-profit boards will meet to write their strategic plan and then hand it to the staff team to turn into programs and services for the next operating year. Sometimes, in the excitement of operational brainstorming...


Call to order: 4:02 PM

Call to order: 4:02 PM

The board meeting is coming up and your job, as the executive director of the non-profit, is to prepare both the reading package and your own reports. Avoid hurt feelings and wasted time. The challenge comes in understanding the nuances between what parts of the reading package are created by...


5 weird truths about being a nonprofit ED

5 weird truths about being a nonprofit ED

A non-profit executive director is one of the strangest jobs. One minute you will be writing a major grant application and the next you are cleaning the bathroom. Some days you’ll be a leading force for the sector, speaking with confidence and enthusiasm, next you’re hauling twenty thousand...


A non-profit's guide to online banking

A non-profit's guide to online banking

Non-profits have many reasons to embrace online banking (e-banking). It might start with a desire to make faster payments to independent contractors, to encourage easier donations, or simply avoid the time it takes for in-person banking. When an executive director begins to investigate...


When board members make operational suggestions…

When board members make operational suggestions…

Posted in executive director / board of directors

Every executive director gets them. Operational suggestions from individual board members. The requests usually happen away from board meetings and are almost always given under the guise of trying to be helpful. One or two operational suggestions here and there will feel uncomfortable but...


My team makes me thankful!

My team makes me thankful!

Posted in hiring / executive director / staff team

Creating an amazing staff team is one of the biggest challenges a non-profit executive director will face. Whether by luck, endless cycles of hiring, or simply waiting long enough, there is nothing more exciting than when that amazing team finally happens. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want...


The difference between operational and governance policy...

The difference between operational and governance policy...

Posted in executive director / policy

Non-profits rely on policies to guide everything from the number of board members needed for a meeting, to how to write a receipt. Policies are very helpful to guide board and staff in their jobs, but policies for the board are very different from policies for the workers. Don’t blur...


Strategic planning: does the executive director have a role?

Strategic planning: does the executive director have a role?

Heading into strategic planning season can be a confusing time for a non-profit executive director. Strategic planning can feel like it is all about the board who will be spending time reviewing and interpreting the wants and needs of clients, members, and stakeholders. The same wants and needs...


Executive Directors can help boards make better decisions

Executive Directors can help boards make better decisions

Non-profit boards make a LOT of governing decisions. When the decision-making system is working well, the board might conduct its own research, develop committees, and have discussions. That’s the dream. The reality is it rarely happens that way. Don’t expect volunteer board members to have...


3 Time-Off Ideas When You Can't Take a Summer Vacation

3 Time-Off Ideas When You Can't Take a Summer Vacation

Posted in executive director / vacation / staff team

For some non-profits, summer is the busy season, and it isn’t possible to be away. If that sounds like your work world, let’s talk about other ways to take time off. When can you start using vacation time? Think back to when you first started working at your non-profit. Did you have to wait...


Don’t Let Guilt Ruin Your Holiday

Don’t Let Guilt Ruin Your Holiday

Posted in executive director / vacation / staff team

Working as an executive director, we all share a desire to do the job well, and we put in the long hours to make it happen. When the time comes to take holidays, feelings of guilt for being away from the office take over. The indecision about taking this week or next week, can delay vacation...


Let the employee do most of the talking at the annual performance review

Let the employee do most of the talking at the annual performance review

Posted in executive director / staff team

The report card style annual performance review has become an obsolete process. Gone are the days of saving up all the failings of your employees and presenting it to them at year end, along with a few positives just to cut the sting. Still, there is a responsibility as an employer to identify...


Non-profits don’t have a top dog

Non-profits don’t have a top dog

Non-profits have different structures and different groups of people who handle different tasks. It can be difficult to tell who’s the boss from one organization to another. Some will have no employees, and some will have many. Some will have a governance board, and some will have an...


Write Your Own Executive Director Succession Plan

Write Your Own Executive Director Succession Plan

When an executive director leaves their position, it doesn’t really matter how much notice is given if there isn’t a written succession plan in place. In small non-profits, without a dedicated HR staffer, no one has the time for hiring. It’s a hot mess at best and squeezed in over coffee breaks...


How long do I have to do this?

How long do I have to do this?

When a volunteer considers joining a non-profit board, one of their first considerations is the length of the term. A board term is the set length of time the volunteer holds a position as a board member before having to run for re-election or leave the board. For a potential nominee...


Five Ways a Non-Profit Executive Director Can Survive When the Job Gets Ugly

Five Ways a Non-Profit Executive Director Can Survive When the Job Gets Ugly

Posted in executive director / self care

Being a non-profit executive director can be a very rewarding experience. It doesn’t take long in the job to see the impact of the organization’s work and to feel truly proud to be part of the team. Those moments are a wonderful gift, and a time that should be savoured, if only because there...


When to Answer a Question with a Question

When to Answer a Question with a Question

Posted in executive director / self care

Most decisions at a non-profit will cross the executive director’s desk at some point. While we might have an amazing team, we will still field questions about budget limitations for programs and advice for challenges. We are often the first stop for questions about the operations of...


How to Draw Out Challenges Weighing On Your Team

How to Draw Out Challenges Weighing On Your Team

Posted in executive director / staff team / staff meeting

A typical staff meeting can feel very productive, have a great conversation, but still not reveal the stressors a team is facing. The reluctance to speak up can vary with reasons from being unsure if a topic is appropriate, to feeling it won’t matter. But is does matter because a healthy staff...


First 30 Days for a New Non-Profit Executive Director

First 30 Days for a New Non-Profit Executive Director

Posted in job description / executive director / staff team

Whether it’s a first job as an executive director or a first day at a new non-profit, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. That’s because the 4 key areas of a non-profit executive director’s job are massive. Those 4 areas are: governance/board support and policy management; making sure...


Offices are Closed for TWO Weeks

Offices are Closed for TWO Weeks

Posted in executive director / vacation / staff team

Non-profits are not typically wealthy organizations. No matter how many grant applications are approved, or donations are received, those funds are used primarily for fulfilling the vision and mission of the organization. That sometimes translates into paying salaries that are not quite as high...


Why an Executive Director Shouldn't be a Jack of All Trades

Why an Executive Director Shouldn't be a Jack of All Trades

Posted in job description / executive director

There is an expectation, real or perceived, that the executive director of a non-profit needs to be a jack of all trades – someone who picks up all the left-over little tasks and handles them as part of regular work duties. The executive director is often expected to handle all the accounting,...