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 pieces of ad mail up the stairs at the post office.
Not for the faint of heart.
Being a non-profit executive director is not for the faint of heart. From hurt feelings to lazy boards. From rock start staff to programs that missed the mark. The more you know about the position, the better you will be able to manage the highs and lows, the weird and the normal, if there even is normal.
Weird #1: You work for a group.
Even with the very best governance policies in place, a non-profit executive director works for a group of people, not one individual. That can, and usually does, feel like having 10 bosses. That’s a lot of personalities to get to know, a lot of nuances to figure out, and that’s IF they show up. Sometimes a large group of board members will behave like your requests are someone else’s problem. There are times when that snowballs and it feels like the whole board is ghosting you.
Weird #2: You don’t have friends.
The executive director position is part mother, sheriff, secretary, cheerleader, therapist, and lawyer. You will be supervised by your board of directors, and no matter how amicable, it is never a good idea to be friends with your boss(es). You will have a team that you supervise, and no matter how supportive and collaborative the relationship, when it comes time to handle the hard tasks or have the hard conversations, you are very much on your own. There is no one like you within your organization. It is just you and it is lonely.
Weird #3: Everyone thinks they know how to do your job better than you do.
There will always be someone who wants your job, is actively working to run you off so they can take over, or feels they are younger and more in touch. A solid 49% will be people from your own board of directors. Another 49% will be your team. But hey, the remaining 2% will be random strangers.
Weird #4: Your workplan for one year is 18 months long.
You will start planning for the new operating year well before the current year is over. It will take you 6+ months to finish all your follow-up reports putting you well into the new operating year before you wrap up the old one. You will live in a constant fluctuation between the prior year, the current year, and the next year.
Weird #5: You will be expected to do everything.
When no one wants to handle the social media posts, guess who does it? You. When you can’t afford a bookkeeper, you take a course and now that’s part of your job. When someone forgets to show up at the annual meeting, you will present the report. When someone is out sick the morning of a major event, you will seamlessly fill in.
You are going to be OK.
If you are crying while you are laughing, wondering why anyone would take on this thankless job, there are reasons. You, my friend, are going to become one very talented individual with every year in the job!
Good News #1:
A non-profit executive director has a great deal of flexibility in their position and their work hours. You can shape the organization to be as flexible as you need and redefine a work-life balance that rivals anything in the corporate world.
Good News #2:
You will build a group of colleagues, from other non-profits, and develop one of the closest circles of supporters and friends. You will be exposed to the brightest ideas from outside your organization and can feel empowered to bring the best back home.
Good News #3:
You will develop a keen sense of awareness of your team, your board, and your sector. You will develop the essential skills of risk management and will have some of the strongest policies in place to respond quickly and effectively in any situation.
Good News #4:
Your ability to stay organized and think strategically, while excelling operationally will give you skills you can use in any position you pursue. You will be a force to be reckoned with.
Good News #5:
There will be no problem you can’t solve. It won’t matter if you have the skills or not, you will certainly have the talent to make the right calls and make it happen, right now.
Now it's your turn. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve experienced as a non-profit executive director? What tools have you used to survive? I want to know! Please use the form on the side of the page to let me know, ..or send me an email, ..or message me on socials.
Hi, I'm Christie. I help executive directors develop the systems and processes needed to run a non-profit.
I learned early in my career, there is no non-profit school. Browsing the internet for resources from big-city experts doesn’t provide practical solutions to balance the budget, write a work plan, or conduct an employee evaluation. Leadership development tips don’t really resonate when you are also taking out the recycling and cleaning the washroom.
I created ChristieSaas.com so non-profit leaders never need to wonder how to do the job – no matter how big or small that job is.
I have been the executive director of small-team, small-budget, non-profits for 20+ years. My experience isn’t theory. It is the real, operational, and practical solutions I use every day.
I love my work and I want to help you love yours too.
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