What is a Nonprofit Executive Director’s Job?

May 29, 2018

Black figure with a red capeOne way to look at an executive director’s responsibilities is through the same lens as that of the board. In the best of worlds, the two entities operate as a team to advance the organization and its purpose. In this context, BoardSource, a national nonprofit devoted to board issues, suggests this list of executive director (ED) responsibilities:

  • Commit to Mission – Not only should executive directors passionately subscribe to the organization’s mission but they should also care enough about the mission to motivate themselves and others to work hard to accomplish the organization’s goals.
  • Lead the Staff and Manage the Organization – This is the prime responsibility of the executive director and includes inspiring and motivating the staff, ensuring that they have the work environment and equipment need to do their jobs, supporting the growth and development of existing staff, and ensuring the quality and effectiveness of programs and services.
  • Exercise Responsible Financial Stewardship – This includes being familiar with the basic principles of finance and accounting, helping the board carry out its fiduciary responsibilities, and ensuring that the organization has sound financial controls.
  • Lead and Manage Fundraising – The ED participates in building relationships with individual and institutional funders and ensures effective board involvement in fundraising.
  • Follow the Highest Ethical Standards, Ensure Accountability, and Comply with the Law – The ED participates, with the board, in ensuring the organization’s compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, including setting and reviewing policies that govern practices and behaviors of the board and staff.
  • Engage the Board in Planning and Lead Implementation – This includes monitoring the organization’s mission and vision, setting strategies and day-to-day activities that are aligned with the mission, and understanding the plan’s financial implications.
  • Develop Future Leadership – An often-neglected ED responsibility is developing leadership among the board and the staff. This also means planning for an orderly executive transition.
  • Build External Relationships and Serve as an Advocate – The ED should be skilled in the role of advocate, communicator, and relationship builder.
  • Ensure the Quality and Effectiveness of Programs – The executive director’s role in ensuring quality and effectiveness includes listening to the organization’s various constituencies, explaining what the organization is trying to accomplish, allocating sufficient resources, using information garnered through evaluation to make management decisions and strengthen programs, and encouraging the board to have periodic discussions about program effectiveness.
  • Support the Board – The board can’t do its job without information, direction, administrative support, and encouragement from the executive director.

The Board of Directors may choose a title for the top staff member, and that title may be Executive Director, President, Chief Executive Officer or some other title appropriate for your organization. Often the Chair of the Board is referred to as President, and that is a separate role from the top paid staff person. Executive Director is the most common title for the top nonprofit staff person, but many ED’s are also called Chief Executive Officers, and some hold the title of President, as well.

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From the Standards for Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector. The Standards for Excellence code, developed by the Standards for Excellence Institute, includes specific benchmarks and measures that provide a structured approach to building capacity, accountability, and sustainability in your nonprofit organization. The code identifies 6 major areas of nonprofit governance and management: Mission, Strategy, and Evaluation; Leadership: Board, Staff, and Volunteers; Legal Compliance and Ethics; Finance and Operations; Resource Development and Fundraising; and Public Awareness, Engagement


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