Small-yet-Effective Improvements Nonprofits Can Make Today: Executive Director Edition

February 20, 2020
8 minutes

Hello, nonprofit Executive Directors! If you're reading this article, you must be looking for change. Yes, change is what all nonprofits are striving for, but today we're talking about internal progress, not the world-changing work you do every day. Speaking of today, it’s the perfect time for goal setting and planning.

As the senior leader at your organization, it’s important to prioritize you and be intentional with your career. Read on for some inspiring ideas for small steps that'll make a big difference to your nonprofit.

I will step in to my role as a thought leader in our issue area

Many nonprofits are trying to capture attention and get their views on a particular issue out into the world. Through strategic thought leadership, nonprofits can become known for their expertise and problem-solving. Just as it’s valuable for nonprofits to become leaders in their niche spaces, there’s value in staff such as Executive Directors being visible thought leaders.

As the leader of your nonprofit, you undoubtedly have interesting things to say, and by becoming a publicly-recognized figure associated with your cause, you can boost your nonprofit’s profile in the community. Building your thought leadership portfolio doesn’t have to be a huge project. You might start small by committing to write three OpEds this year or applying to speak at a few conferences. You could also maintain your social media feeds as a way to build up your thought leadership. Here’s an example of one ED who tweets like a boss.

I will cultivate my relationship with our board chair

We know working with your board isn’t always the easiest part of your job and that’s why we’re suggesting this commitment. Having a solid working relationship with your board chair can improve the situation. Ideally, Executive Directors and board chairs should be working together closely by having regular check-ins, setting meeting agendas, reviewing the strategic plan, and more.

But reality check, is this the kind of relationship you have with your board chair right now? Hit the reset button on expectations and how you’ll work together going forward. Start by taking your board chair out to lunch or coffee to talk about the upcoming year, set goals for the board, and discuss how you can best work together.

You can also bring our Small-yet-Effective Improvements list for board members to your coffee date with your board chair... Who knows, they may want to jump on the resolutions bandwagon!

I will make time for my professional development

Everyone needs a professional development plan—that includes you, Executive Director! When was the last time you thought about how to grow your leadership and skill sets? Today is a great time to think about professional areas you’d like to work on and make a plan to support your professional development. Here are a few ideas of professional development goals you could set for yourself:

  • Learn techniques for coaching staff
  • Improve working relationships with board members
  • Learn how to write OpEds (hint, start with LinkedIn!)
  • Improve public speaking skills

Conferences, webinars, online classes, books, mentorship programs, and workshops are great ways to get your learning on!

I will improve the equity and diversity of our hiring practices

It’s the future already and that means it’s time for out-of-date hiring practices to be tossed out. As Executive Director, you have the power to raise the bar on your hiring processes by improving their equity and diversity, so use that power for good! Vu Le suggests these three major changes to nonprofit hiring practices:

  • Disclose salary range and never ask for salary history or salary requirement.
  • Don't ask for formal education except for specialized positions (legal, accounting, counseling, etc).
  • Don't exclude candidates with disabilities by requirements like :"must have working vehicle" or "must be able to lift 50 pounds", unless those are essential duties. (And really, there are very few times those are actually essential, so put a rull harsh light on that 'requirement'.)
  • Don't exclude candidates with criminal records unless those records are relevant to the current job.

Vu has a more indepth article on the inequities in nonprofit hiring practices and their consequences here. Definitely worth a read!

I will say no more often

Let’s face it, we all say yes to things way too often. And saying yes so much means we end up with a to do list that’s a mile long and a calendar that’s jampacked; it can all add up to us feeling overwhelmed. We know that there are times when you’ll have to say yes, but chances are there more than a few times when you could say no.

Saying no is a way to set a boundary and insulate yourself from burnout. It’s also a tool that can help you find more satisfaction in your day-to-day and even fall back in love with your job.  

I will make self-care a priority for myself and my staff

Awesome organization culture starts from the top down. You want your staff to stay happy and healthy at work so that they enjoy their jobs and can do their best work. Leading by example and making self-care a priority is one way that you can improve your organization’s culture. Here are a few small ways you can do this:

  • Let your staff know that you won’t respond to emails outside of working hours and that they don’t have to either
  • Actually take your lunch break—if you must stay at your desk, do something obviously non-work-related
  • Leave work at a consistent time

If you’re looking for something bigger to do, consider scheduling an afternoon off for everyone to practice self-care in a way that works for them.

Executive Director, we hope these small actions get you dreaming big about what’s possible. You’re an awesome leader for your nonprofit and we know that when you dedicate a little extra time for yourself, you’ll shine even brighter.

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