What to Look for in an Executive Director

January 20, 2009

Posted in Management.

Our organization is hiring an executive director. Last week we had a debate about the role of an ED. Here are some angles we approached:


Most not-for-profit organizations look at fundraising as a major part of what they do. This was my take, at first: we need a real fundraiser. A good fundraiser would be able to make the visits and calls, develop the relationships, and bring in the money so we can go back to focusing on our programs.

Business Manager

Over the years, some short-sighted decisions had us paying interest-only loans and investing in unproductive activities. We need an executive director who understands finance to help make the most of what we do have.

Personnel Manager

We’ve struggled with some organizational instability, partly due to budgets and partly due to burnout. We’ve turned over our board with shocking frequency and while we have great ideas we often struggle to complete them. Having a good manager as executive director would help catch problems before they happen and rally the organization to achieve its goals.


In my mind, the defining characteristic of an entrepreneur is the ability to recognize and pursue opportunities regardless of the available resources. With a rich history such as ours, we’ve got a lot of opportunities. And not a lot of resources. So an entrepreneurial executive director would be a valuable asset.


Our main programs are fee-for-service camps. We’ve recognized that, if we could fill our camps, we could generate the funds needed to accomplish our goals. Success begets success, so an executive director who is a marketer and salesperson would be responsible for filling our camps. And sales is closely related to fundraising and marketing, so the skills should transfer without too much trouble.

The Role of an Executive Director

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Every organization has different needs. Our small organization, running on a skeleton crew and slowly clawing its way back, needs all of these. We all wear a dozen hats and jump from one activity to another. We’ve actively recruited board members and volunteers from all of these backgrounds in hopes that we could balance out our organizational weaknesses.

So should we look for a specialist or a generalist? After all, it’s a tricky thing to balance many skills. Should we try to find someone who is pretty good at all of these roles, or a specialist who excels in one area?

My opinion is that we need a salesperson/marketer to help us fill our programs. The pie chart is my current take on how we might split up the job requirements.

We have recruited some brilliant volunteers in most of these areas, and we’ll be better off in the long term by filling our programs and wisely reinvesting that money in the opportunities we all see. Remember, it’s more about the position and less about the person.

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