6 Tips for Becoming a Highly Successful Executive Director

by: Adam Greenberg, Developer & Tech Writer

Being an Executive Director is challenging. It can mean long hours and many frustrations, but it can also be equally rewarding. The position requires excellent leadership skills, the ability to communicate effectively and listen carefully. It takes someone with a passion for the mission and the ability to share that vision with the community. Here are 6 tips for becoming highly successful as an Executive Director.

Love Your Mission
Before you ever accept the position, carefully consider if the mission is worthy of your support. It should be something you would work to promote, with or without formal employment. Your passion for the cause should be clear from the minute you begin to talk about it. If your audience can catch your vision they will become strong supporters of your mission.

Gain A Thorough Understanding of Your Board’s Expectations
The Board of Directors or Board of Trustees is the governing body of a non-profit organization. They are typically responsible for setting goals and expectations for the Executive Director. It is crucial to your success to have a very clear understanding of what their expectations are from the beginning. Do not assume you know, ask them! Ask them to define your role and responsibilities and make sure you are qualified to meet their expectations. Request a comprehensive job description in writing to avoid any misunderstandings. Always take notes during board meetings and provide meeting minutes in writing to each participant. Learning to communicate with your board is one of the most important things you will do as an Executive Director, so set a precedent from the beginning.

Take Notes on Everything
Whether it’s during a meeting, an encounter with a staff member, or a phone conversation with a constituent, make sure you take notes on everything. Keep a physical notebook, or an electronic journal. Date each entry, and write down as much detail as possible. It is important to have names, relationships and conversations where you can access them whenever you need to. In the event of conflict or discrepancy, having notes to reference could save the day. Reviewing your notes periodically will keep information at the forefront of your memory, just in case.

Become A Servant Leader and Learn to Motivate Others
Be concerned most with what you can give to others. Be creative and craft ideas on how to provide the tools needed to carry out the mission of your organization. Get to know your staff and volunteers. Listen to their concerns, allow them to share their ideas on how to communicate with your constituents and consider their thoughts on how to grow and change as necessary. Inspire them, and make them feel a part of the mission, so they will take ownership of the cause.

Be Trustworthy and Authentic
When speaking to others about your organization be yourself. Don’t try to impress people, just speak about your mission clearly and let them know what you need from them. Be very honest. Don’t over inflate your numbers or make claims about your constituent base that aren’t accurate. It’s much easier to ask donors to contribute if they have donated in the past. Constituents who truly support your cause will be more likely to give repeat contributions.

Be Bold
Don’t let obstacles stand in your way of success. Be persistent, especially when it comes to fundraising. Raising awareness is as simple as making friends. When you’re sharing your mission with potential donors, focus on the possibilities and outcomes by sharing success stories and testimonials. Conversation is the key to building passion in your community, so don’t be shy about spreading the good work your organization is doing.

The role of an Executive Director requires stamina, hard work and a variety of skills necessary for getting the job done. Keep in mind, your success can mean changing lives and contributing to the improvement of your community. In the long run, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.