My team makes me thankful!

Posted in hiring / executive director / staff team

My team makes me thankful!

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 to share a few thoughts.

Watch for clues.

It takes a lot of confidence for a non-profit executive director to step into a new job and believe wholeheartedly they will succeed. We’ve all heard the stories about the new ED who boldly fires the entire team on day one, bringing in a different group, personally selected. I suspect those stories are urban legend.

My own experience has been finding a way to work with the team that’s already in place. That team might include a collection of employees from the know-it-all player to the lazy performer. It might include the great multi-tasker to the overachiever. Trying to get to know everyone’s working styles, while learning a new job, and fighting nagging feelings of imposter syndrome can mean a non-profit ED will work for years before feeling confident in their team.

When the moment finally arrives, there are no fireworks or special letters of commendation letting you know you’ve succeeded. A non-profit executive director will need to watch for other clues. It will be the ability to sit back and listen to the team evaluate their own program ideas, without any prompting from the ED. It will feel like there is a desire to work as a team, rather than in silos. It will be a team that can pretty much lead itself because there is a true understanding of how to do the job, and how to do it well.

Tell others.

If you are lucky enough to have a few years with an amazing team, don’t keep it a secret to yourself. There are 3 place to share that information.

Start with the team. Tell them how excited you are about their ability to do the job, to do the job collaboratively, and to do it while staying in strategic alignment. They need to know how grateful you are.  

Then tell the board. The information isn’t about blurring any lines between governance and operations. It is sharing happy news that, right now, the organization is in good hands.

Finally, as an executive director crosses paths with funders, clients, and stakeholders, share little snippets that the operational team is strong. This isn’t bragging and need not be long. A remark, here or there, will create a confidence when thinking about the organization and a desire to see it succeed.

I am fortunate to be in this happy place, right now with my team. If you’ve ever wondered, I am a full-time executive director for a small-budget, small-team, non-profit. I have been doing this job for a long time and I am genuinely grateful for those moments when a team is operating at a high level. That is my current team right now, …and you better believe I am telling everyone!

Reflect on how it happened.

As I reflect, there are two factors that I believe contributed to the success of my present team.

The first is bringing strategic language into day-to-day operations. As executive directors, we spend an unreasonable amount of time explaining the rationale for operations to the board. But it is even more important to explain the rationale for the board’s strategic goals to the team. The work is easier to understand when the operational team knows the big picture why.

To do this, I talk about all programs and services within the context of the strategic goals, and I guess I’ve been doing that long enough because I am experiencing my team use that language back to me. It makes me pause, sit back, and smile.

The second is that I have the right people in the job. I will be the first to admit that there is no magic formula to get to this point. I don’t have any secret answers. It was a lot of hiring, a lot of patience, and even a lot of luck.

Enjoy the ride, while it lasts.

The benefit of a great staff team is that I know the organization is in a place right now, where I could retire and one of my team could step into my job, and easily take it to the organization next level. How exciting is that?!

The bittersweet reality is that no team is permanent. I know that someone, sometime, is going to move on to a new opportunity and I will once again be working to make a new team. That’s part of my job, and to be totally honest, I’m not ready to retire any time soon.

Your turn.

Your turn. What’s the pulse on the operational team at your non-profit? How many amazing teams have you had over the years? 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 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.

© Christie Saas 2023 All Rights Reserved

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