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Viken Mikaelian CEO

Viken Mikaelian CEO

Majorgifts.com LLC

Nonprofit Management: Land an Executive Director Role

An executive director is arguably the most valuable role within a nonprofit organization. Executive directors carry a great responsibility and are the true face of the organization. When hiring executive directors, members of the board must be extremely selective and steadfast in finding someone whose values align with the organization.

While nonprofit management is laden with responsibility, the role of executive director can be extremely rewarding and give the person who holds that title the opportunity to make a true impact on the cause of their choice. This career is ideal for people who are drawn to philanthropy, education, and social services.

An executive director position can be exciting. It is thrilling and nerve-wracking to know that you are primarily accountable for the success of an organization you care about. Nonprofit management is often a large jump in responsibility, so being prepared and aware of what the job entails is important.

The roadmap to nonprofit management looks different for everyone, but there are some key steps that can help a resume stand out amongst the crowd.


Qualities of an Executive Director

Executive directors are responsible for the many moving parts of the nonprofit. Everything from staff management, hiring, budgeting, programming, and working in conjunction with the board of directors could pop up during an average workday.

Because of the executive director’s many roles, the perfect hire must have impeccable time-management skills. Being able to juggle all the balls of nonprofit management is stressful, so managing the workload while maintaining a good work/life balance is essential.

Executive directors are often in the public eye. They are usually the most well-known person at an organization. That means they are often the first to take the fall if something goes awry, so being able to handle a crisis is also a valuable skill.

The executive director must have exceptional leadership skills and a continuous desire to improve them. It is crucial that staff members have a leader who can project a cohesive front when promoting the nonprofit’s public image.

It is not uncommon for executive directors to have to give public presentations or speak to the media, so refined public speaking skills are desirable. An eye for marketing and branding is helpful in keeping the image of the organization fresh in the minds of participants and donors, as well as helping to form effective fundraising strategies.

In an interview for an executive director position, it is important to display authenticity. Conveying yourself as an empathetic, self-aware person can help boost your chances of getting hired. The hiring committee will be looking for someone who is a good fit with the current workplace culture. If the culture is currently lacking in morale, they may be looking for nonprofit management that can revive the atmosphere. Showcase the best version of yourself with honesty so you don’t end up in a workplace that is not a good fit.


Qualifications for Nonprofit Management

Most executive directors have some level of post-secondary education. Many organizations require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for nonprofit management, but more prominent organizations may require a master’s degree. In the role of an executive director, however, education is not the thing that will make or break you.

Experience reigns when it comes to hiring nonprofit management, and your track record speaks volumes. This job is fundamental to the nonprofit’s success, and there is no room for a regretful hire. This is why there is often a minimum requirement of 10 years of experience in a nonprofit management or leadership role.

When interviewing a prospective hire, the board of directors will often ask questions about your vision for the organization. When hiring an executive director, ensuring that they find someone who shares their vision and goals for the future and has a strategic plan to work towards meeting their goals is the bottom line. Take this time to explain exactly why this cause is important to you, as well as any experience you may have working with their target population.

An extra qualification that would be desirable on a nonprofit resume is leadership training. Being able to say that you are an effective leader and have continually taken steps to improve your leadership skills could be the thing that wins you the position. Many universities offer continuing education certificates in nonprofit management, and this is an excellent place to start.


Responsibilities of Nonprofit Management

The responsibilities of nonprofit management are diverse. No two days look the same in this career. While there are some predictable tasks, the dynamics of this position make it an excellent choice for people who like variety and excitement in their workday.

There are two streams within the responsibilities of this job. One is to manage the day-to-day operations and staffing. You may find yourself handling a budget, planning programming, managing staff schedules, or managing staff conflicts. You are also responsible for writing performance reviews and providing leadership and guidance when needed. If there are issues with clients or members of the public, they will land squarely on your plate as well.

The other stream is working with the board of directors. You are responsible for calling regular meetings, hosting annual general meetings, planning retreats, setting goals, and ensuring that the board and staff are aligned in their vision for the organization’s future. You will work with the board of directors to make hiring decisions and plan fundraising strategies and events.

If there is a Major Gifts Officer on staff, you will work closely with this person to ensure you are collecting donor data, cultivating relationships, and providing stewardship to donors. You may be in the room for very important asks of major gift donations. You are responsible for helping thank donors and updating them on the impact of their contributions.

Another duty of the executive director is to ensure that the organization is compliant with the law and any other regulations or standards in the industry. Following practices that are ethical and civic-minded can help keep you and your staff in check in the public eye. In nonprofit management, being a stickler for doing the right thing goes miles in developing your reputation.


The role of the executive director is essential to ensuring that a nonprofit runs smoothly, meets goals, provides adequate programming, and manages its budget properly. Providing leadership to maintain an aligned vision between staff and the board of directors allows for the organization’s growth. Promoting positive workplace culture is important in a field that is often overworked and underpaid.

A strong working relationship with staff members and with the board of directors is crucial to the success of the organization, as well as to your job satisfaction. Ensuring open lines of communication can mitigate stress and mistakes that may cause issues.

Nonprofit management can be a rewarding career, but applicants must understand the workload before jumping into this job. Balancing the social, marketing, fundraising, and managerial aspects of a nonprofit is vital to success in such a position. If making this kind of difference for a cause you support appeals to you, the executive director role is worth considering.

By the Numbers

Consider the recruitment opportunities for your organization that these stats indicate:

  • About 63 million Americans (25% of the adult population) volunteer their time, talents, and energy to making a difference.
  • These people spend an average of 52 hours/year volunteering.
  • 72% of volunteers are involved with only one organization, while 18.3% are involved with two.

Random interesting stats presented monthly from various sources.