Archive for the ‘Career Advice’ Category

Job Opening: Executive Director…You want it?

February 19, 2010

Photo by Hamed Saber

So, you want to be a non-profit executive? Now, you just need to figure out how to get there. The position of Executive Director is the most important in an organization; they are ultimately responsible for the day-to-day of the organization and can ensure its success. While this may seem like an impossible feat, and something you won’t be able to accomplish for many years, don’t worry. You can do it. I was able to lead my first organization before I turned 23 and I am not alone. With hundreds, if not thousands, of nonprofit executives retiring every year, strong leadership is needed.

So, how can you get there? Most organizations look for five key things in applications (these are listed in order of importance):

1. Fundraising Experience: In almost all postings for Executive Directors, you will see that a required qualification is something like “Fundraising experience, with demonstrated expertise in personal solicitation of individual gifts” or “Proven fund development experience and the ability to grow an organization’s budget through fundraising initiatives are imperative.” If nonprofit leadership is a career goal, I strongly encourage you to take a position in Development, preferably as Development Director. This will give you extremely beneficial experience working with donors, planning events and writing grants. You can also serve on fundraising committees of nonprofit organizations as well.

2. Financial/Organizational Management Experience: They want to make sure that you can actually run their organization, so you will see something like: “Candidates must have a minimum of 5-7 years of leadership experience as CEO or Director of a non-profit, faith-based, or volunteer-oriented organization”, “Candidate must have a solid understanding of finance, marketing, and organizational development”, or “Managerial skills in planning, budgeting, finance, staffing, and team building.” This can be a hard qualification to meet if you have not had nonprofit leadership in the past. This can be satisfied with continuing education and professional development. There are hundreds of workshops, seminars, and mini-MBA programs that can help bolster your financial and organizational management skills. You can also make the case that any director-lever position you have had translates to this qualification, particularly if you had to develop your own budget and/or manage staff.

3. Communication Skills: Since you will be the public image of the organization, you need to make sure you have excellent communication skills. Qualifications often include: “Excellent oral and written communication skills”, “As the key leader of the organization, this individual must be an effective public speaker and motivational leader”, “Outstanding interpersonal and communication skills are essential.” That means you need to make sure you have strong public speaking and written communication skills. There are a variety of ways to fine tune these skills, you can present at local conferences, sign up for you local Toastmasters group, and/or write articles for your local nonprofit newspaper.

4. Education: Nowadays a Bachelor’s degree is pretty much a given and most organizations will expect that you have them. You will usually see “Minimum qualifications: Undergraduate degree in related field, MA or MBA preferred” or “Requires a college degree in Business, Marketing or related field.” Advanced degrees can be particularly helpful with competitive positions. With the vast array of part-time or online programs, you can complete your degree(s) while working full-time. I also want to note that if you have sufficient experience (over 10 years), many organizations are willing to overlook this qualification.

5. Field Specific Experience: Some organizations want you to know something about their field and will include something along the lines of “Familiarity with the Lutheran community and its values”, “Commitment to our mission and a passion for working to overcome the challenges facing American Indian women and family’s in today’s world are mandatory” or “Experience with dementia preferred” in the posting. This can be a hard qualification to meet. It is not often that there will be an opening at the organization you have volunteered with, served on the board of, etc. So, my advice to help you meet this qualification is to get involved in your community. Volunteer, serve on boards and committees, this can only help you in the end and who knows, maybe that experience will directly relate to the organization you end up leading.

Now, I realize that this may seem like a daunting task. But, gaining all these experiences so that you can become a nonprofit leader can be done. Just believe in yourself and know that you can bring a lot to an organization and will have the opportunity to work on a cause that is important to you.