Working in a nonprofit environment is a career opportunity for anyone committed to helping others, particularly if the commitment relates to a specific cause. Most 501 (c) (3) nonprofits are headed by a board of volunteer directors and managed by an executive director who reports to the board. The executive director might be the only paid staff member in a nonprofit organization, or she could manage up to several hundred paid staff, depending on the organization's size. In addition to day-to-day management, the executive director has some specific responsibilities.
The primary job of the executive director is to implement the direction the board sets for the organization. To do this, she works closely with the board to drive the strategic planning process, helps define the nonprofit’s mission, vision and values, and sets long- and short-term goals. When these are in place, she works with her team of staff and volunteers to compile action plans that will carry out each aspect of the strategy. She oversees the allocation of resources such as money, staff, office space and volunteers.
Nonprofit organizations typically receive most funding from grants and fundraising activities, and if registered as charities, from donor gift programs. The executive director is responsible for overseeing or writing the grant applications, depending on whether she has a dedicated grant writer on her team. She oversees fundraising activities such as golf tournaments, theater premieres and fundraising dinners, and approves benefits packages offered to corporate sponsors in return for financial support. She supervises the finance manager, if one exists, and manages the expenditure of the nonprofit’s money according to the budget ratified by the board.
The executive director acts as a liaison between board members and others in the organization, such as clients, staff and volunteers. She also builds relationships with external stakeholders including community members, representatives of corporate sponsors, suppliers, government and local authorities. She works closely with partner organizations, which include other businesses and nonprofits that do similar work. An animal rescue organization might partner with a local veterinary hospital to provide pro bono health care services, or a nonprofit community center to hold pet adoption drives.
Allocating and managing resources is a critical responsibility for an executive director, because nonprofits commonly operate with minimum funding, human capital and assistance. She must find creative ways to carry out the workload, whether using part-time or volunteer workers, sharing premises and services with other organizations, or accepting in-kind donations instead of funding to facilitate the work. She may be able to arrange a trade exchange with the organization’s bank to provide fee banking services in return for sponsorship benefits and exposure, or offer free consultations to clients in return for volunteer hours worked.
Tracey Sandilands has written professionally since 1990, covering business, home ownership and pets. She holds a professional business management qualification, a bachelor's degree in communications and a diploma in public relations and journalism. Sandilands is the former editor of an international property news portal and an experienced dog breeder and trainer.