Becoming an Executive Director

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As the person in charge of the operations of a nonprofit organization, an executive director has many unique responsibilities. In addition to establishing and enforcing the vision of the organization, executive directors are charged with recruiting and supervising office staff, maintaining a productive relationship with the board of directors, creating a fundraising plan that will ensure sustainability, and managing organizational finances. This chapter offers tips and tools to help make your adoption of this new role as seamless as possible.

The executive director is responsible for establishing an organization’s climate, work, and processes.

Starting a new job is always an exhilarating experience, and in becoming a nonprofit director, you have the power to affect real, lasting change. Whether you are replacing a former executive director or starting your own organization, it is important that your orientation occurs as part of a larger transitional plan. Because the executive director takes the lead in establishing an organization’s climate, work, and processes, assuming control can impact staff morale, board member engagement, and the perception of funders and clients.

Click to open interactivity Self-assessment is a great way to prepare yourself to lead an organization.

Self-assessment is a great way to prepare yourself to lead an organization.

As you prepare to take on your role as Executive Director, try this Self Assessment activity to determine your strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

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Organizing essential documents can help you transition into your role as executive director.

Here’s a quick list of the essential documents that a new executive director should gather together on the first day of work and keep in a management folder. If these documents are not already available, you should make it a top priority during your first quarter on the job to get them developed.

General

  • Most recent annual report
  • Strategic plan
  • Staff contact sheet
  • Board roster and contact information
  • Board policies and procedures
  • Technology inventory           
  • Organizational conflict of interest policy
  • Bylaws
  • IRS determination letter

Human Resources

  • Personnel handbook
  • All job or position descriptions (including your own)
  • Employee orientation manual and process

Financial

  • Current fiscal year budget
  • Current statement of financial position and activities
  • Recent audit information (if applicable)

Fundraising

  • Funding matrix (with funder name, amounts, and report deadlines)
  • Fundraising plan
  • Recent proposal(s)
Click to open interactivity Maintaining a checklist of essential documents can help you track your onboarding progress.

Maintaining a checklist of essential documents can help you track your onboarding progress.

Download this helpful New Executive Director Checklist, and keep track of the essential documents needed to transition into your new role
as executive director.

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