Executive directors are non-profit equivalents of corporate CEOs. It is the top role in overseeing an organization's management. An executive director manages daily operations and reports to the board of directors. This ensures that the organization's goals are met, its mission is pursued, and projects receive the direction and oversight they warrant.
If you are interested in the role of executive director, how to get there may not seem like a clear path. Here is what you need to know about becoming an executive director.
Find Your Cause
An executive director of a non-profit has typically been embedded in its activism and operations for years. It's a passion they believe in, and they have close ties to that community.
For someone who may not already have a cause or non-profit in mind, think about what you're naturally passionate about and what sort of organization you may want to contribute to, whether in an executive director role or otherwise.
Executive coaching puts your leadership skills to test. It allows you to identify your strengths and weaknesses and confront the parts of you not suited to the director role. From there, those parts of you that may be considered weaknesses today can be strengthened through executive coaching.
You learn how to be a leader and an executive director through executive coaching. You tap into guidance from coaches and mentors who know how to develop you to get you where you need to be.
Experience in That Sector
Most executive directors take on the role after years of working in an organization. In most cases, a minimum of ten years of experience is preferred. It may take some time to achieve an executive director role if you are at the start of your journey with a non-profit.
In the interim, however, you can obtain executive coaching and potential leadership opportunities essential to any application for such a role.
Your non-profit needs to be represented differently. That's a tidy, professional appearance in line with the image your non-profit expects its executive director to be. Work on getting that appearance right before applying for the role. It could mean wearing specific colours or clothing items or adopting a particular presentation style or tone of voice.
Representation could mean many things, but as you go out and represent your organization, appearances are a major factor in how well you come across.
Lead Strategic Projects
Within a non-profit, lead projects. As an executive director, you will do much of this anyway. Some skills acquired include developing business plans, organizing and executing initiatives, meeting project objectives, operating under a specified budget and schedule, and more. Create a track record of the events, initiatives, and projects you oversee.
Seek Growth Prospects
As an executive director, your job, in part, will be to sustain and grow the non-profit's reach. Anyone in the organization can do that if they think like an executive director. Look at ways to build partnerships with viable partners that could expand your reach.
If possible, collaborate with the board of directors to discuss funding efforts or implementing strategic plans. Think critically about your organizational culture and how to develop it. Work together on all of these points.
Understand Every Department
Try to gain knowledge, experience, and comfort in all aspects of a non-profit. Areas to focus on include board of directors relations, financial systems management, human resources, non-profit development, marketing and social media, technology, grant development, budget planning and administration, event organization, and governance structures.
Each of these areas should be explored whenever possible. In turn, you can understand how your non-profit functions and runs.
Fine-Tune Interpersonal Skills
Your communication skills must be excellent as an executive director. You're expected to maintain positive relationships with people of all backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems at all levels. From the board of directors to donors, staff, administration, and more, it takes experience to fine-tune interpersonal skills.
Furthermore, practice public speaking for groups of all sizes to gain confidence. Interests and opportunities include mentorship, co-leadership, and team management.
Management Skills Up to Par
It's not enough to have passion for the cause, top-level communication skills, and knowledge and experience. Your management skills must be up to snuff. As an executive director, you will oversee certain financial and accounting aspects and manage people.
Delegate responsibilities to the correct parties, collaborate with others, make decisions, and manage conflict. These are skills one can learn on a small scale from different organizational projects long before becoming an executive director.