The Executive Director & Nonprofits

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It is my personal opinion that the need for nonprofit professionals may grow as we watch our government cut more funding from nonprofit agencies

–As seen in The Cambrian

Your nonprofit has served its mission statement well. So well in fact, that the directory of volunteers has grown from a half-page to just over three pages.

Since those first meetings in a living room more than a decade ago, the nonprofit now has a conference room in a rented office. No more garage storage of files and records. Lessons learned, you ceased bringing in volunteers to answer the phone and manage the paperwork. Now the nonprofit pays an office manager, a part-time assistant, and grudgingly hired a volunteer coordinator.

Next, the five-member volunteer board of directors besought with management challenges, turned into pariah instead of heroes. And they might have better luck asking for someone to volunteer for a root canal than to volunteer on the board of directors.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but as the nonprofit grew, so did the demands and challenges. And, after all, there is only so much sustainable input and time that a volunteer can offer.

“Nonprofits are expected (and expect themselves) to provide effective and efficient services that address societal problems or maintain and enhance the community’s culture endowments — and they are expected to do it with limited resources,” wrote Marion Peter Angelica, an assistant professor at the Hamlin University Graduate School of Nonprofit Management.

Sometimes judgment errors started in the beginning when the organization’s founder and/or first board of directors offered a great idea and need, but lacked the experience necessary to keep the nonprofit pliable, up-to-date with technology, and managing funds.

Sometimes the need changes, but the current board lacks focus flexibility. Sometimes the board suffers from soft leadership, or worse, an authoritarian at the helm. Sometimes meeting this aspect noted by Angelica, “Nonprofits often serve as the research and development laboratory for methods to address society’s problems. … The challenges and opportunities confronting nonprofits demand entrepreneurial innovation. (This can) also generate … frequent conflict.”

If these circumstances ring true for your nonprofit, it may be time to hire a paid executive director.

“An executive director sits in the top spot in a nonprofit organization, and performs a range of duties similar to those of chief executive officers in corporate businesses. Understanding the role of an executive director of a nonprofit organization can shed light into how nonprofits function on the inside. … Executive directors oversee the heads of each department in a nonprofit, including marketing, fundraising, program development, (human resources) management and accounting,” according to a report in The Houston Chronicle, “The Role of an Executive Director of a Nonprofit Organization.”

Sounds like a pressure-relief valve for a challenged nonprofit board of directors at the head of a growing nonprofit. Now the board president can spend a bit more time hugging her grandchildren, and board members might learn to like one another again because there is shared leadership with a nonprofit professional.

It is my personal opinion that the need for nonprofit professionals may grow as we watch our government cut more funding from nonprofit agencies. While the board will remain in charge, a professional executive director can take the helm of bringing in and following through achieving funds through grants, membership drives and fundraising team management.

“(Executive) directors develop and maintain relationships with other nonprofit leaders, for example, looking for opportunities to partner with other organizations to serve good causes. Directors also work personally with leaders in the business and government world, cultivating long-term strategic partnerships or donor relationships to increase the organization’s effectiveness serving unmet needs,” as further explained in the above Houston Chronicle reference.

Another benefit, one that I have personally experienced, is the executive director can also be the one who speaks with the media. Now, this sounds like no big deal, but here’s a quick personal story: When I was the public relations/marketing director for a California agricultural district, an unfortunate accident caused by nature vs. a crane lifting a $100,000 sound system for a big-name country music celebrity concert, brought all of us — from the volunteer board of directors to the event management and me — a lawsuit for a basic obstruction of the First Amendment.

When the accident occurred, a local photojournalist arrived and took photos of the besieged crane and sound system that literally crashed to the ground. A well-meaning board member freaked out and took his camera and removed and exposed the film. When reporters showed up, the board members decided they would not allow the media access or answers. That brought on a firestorm over what really was not that big of a story until the photojournalist’s film was ruined, professionals weren’t allowed to handle the technicalities of speaking and working with the media.

A nonprofit professional will cost money. At the same time, that professional may save the nonprofit funds like preventable legal expenses.

Trade publications and online professional career sources are a good starting point for finding an executive director who keeps your nonprofit on track, funded, and rich with happy volunteers serving our community’s needs.

Charmaine Coimbra’s column appears the fourth Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian.

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