If you are the executive director of a nonprofit you find out quickly that you can get overwhelmed in a hurry. You may feel your job requires you to not only make sure the program is running like it is suppose to, but also make sure there is money available to pay for it!
Your job involves being savvy at business and compassionate about your cause at the same time. You adapt to being part salesperson and part diplomat. You have a group of people called your “board of directors” but you’re not always sure if they really understand how hard it is day to day. Also, you find it frustrating that other than board meetings many of the people that are suppose to be helping you really don’t know much about them personally. After the meetings are over and people scurry out to go home and you are left alone you begin to question your sanity for taking a job that makes you feel like you have ten or more bosses at one time?
Still with this as a backdrop you realize you have a job to do and you want to do it to the best of your ability. If you are lucky you will have a job description but sometimes that description goes on for pages and is really worthless because it expects too much.
Asking someone to stretch is a good thing, but passing an edict expecting them to be Super Man or Wonder Woman is just as much a piece of fiction as the characters are themselves.
Regardless, in my years of involvement with nonprofits, I have yet to see written in any job description that truly outlines one of the most important aspects of this daunting job. That is the permission to believe! As the executive director you are looked upon to be the torch bearer. While it might be the job of the board to keep the nonprofit on its mission, as executive director your feet must be firmly planted for today but you also must have a real vision of the future and things to come.
Board members come and go, donors may come and go and yes so do staff; however, there has to be a level of energy and excitement within the organization at all times. If you are going to have a fundraiser, as the executive director, you truly have to believe in its success and not be half-hearted about it. Likewise, if you are planning a capital campaign you have to know in your mind, heart and soul that what you are about to undertake is so important that failure is not an option you are willing to accept! You must say this out loud to your board and not be afraid to fail. This takes guts! Few executive directors would be willing to put themselves out there that much but the ones who are the best of the best always do.
Giving permission to believe in the organization and what it stands for is what keeps the life blood flowing through the heart of the organization. As executive director you are the one that causes this heart to beat and you determine how fast!
As a consultant I am often called upon to make a diagnosis and render a judgment about the health status of a nonprofit. Sometimes I am called too late, which is rather depressing. Other times I see the possibility of improvement but something inside me isn’t sure if it is enough to sustain the organization long term, this is also depressing. Then there are times that make me smile. I see an organization that, while struggling, is doing the right thing and they just need a little nudge and encouragement in short, they need the permission to believe!
DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.