How Good is Your Executive Director?

Does the quality of the Executive Director make a difference?

You bet it does.  Or, at least in the corporate world, a great CEO seems to have an outsized impact on the strength of the corporation.

Walter Frick, reviewing work by professors Quigley and Hambrick at Penn State and University of Georgia, makes the case that in corporate America, when business is more dynamic and less predictable, the CEO has a disproportionate effect on the success of the corporation. They looked at data spanning more than 60 years – the equivalent of 18,000 firm-years, that is, the combined years that the firms had been in existence – and found that the effect of the CEO almost doubled from 1950-2009.

What does this mean for the nonprofit world?  Look carefully at this quote from Frick:

“an increase in business dynamism has amplified the impact of CEOs over time, but that effect is at its highest in companies where industry and economic constraints still limit the firm’s options.”

Picture of KamehamehaWhile I wouldn’t make one-to-one comparisons between for-profit and nonprofit organizations, you can’t deny that by its very nature, the nonprofit world is continually under economic constraints, with limited options, facing increased competition for support, higher needs, and declining resources. How well you manage these constraints is a function of the Executive Director and the Executive-Board partnership.

One of the most important functions of a Board of Directors is to hire, evaluate and, if necessary, replace the Executive Director.  The quality of the partnership between the Executive and the board has an enormous effect on whether the board’s vision is achieved, or whether the board and Executive spend most of their time on minutiae.

Hiring well, and putting in place a sound evaluation system based on relevant criteria, can make a huge difference in the future of your organization. And, if there is any similarity to the for-profit world, it is even more important in uncertain times.

Consider it an investment in the future of your agency.

For more hallmarks of transformational boards, or to find out more about achieving nonprofit Standards for Excellence™, get in touch. Let’s have a conversation.

Susan Detwiler

Do, Delegate, Discard: Make Time for New Resolutions

“I resolve to do more (fill in the blank)…… in the coming year.”

Congratulations! But what are going to do less of?

A simple and powerful tool for any manager, Do, Delegate, Discard is especially helpful to Executive Directors who are the lynchpin between the Board of Directors and the staff. It makes you focus on making the most of your time, and helps you make best use of the talent around you.

First, write down everything you are responsible for. Everything. That includes bringing in office snacks, managing the $5000 library fund donor and organizing the annual gala. Making thank you calls to major donors, reviewing the copier contract, meeting board members for coffee and writing the copy for the eight page monthly newsletter. Writing the development and communications plan, keeping the FAQs up-to-date, hiring, evaluating and firing staff and developing the employee handbook. Whatever it is, write it down.

Now, make three columns next to the list: Do, Delegate, Discard.

For each item on the list, decide if it’s something ONLY YOU CAN DO, something you can DELEGATE TO SOMEONE ELSE, or something that doesn’t have to be done, i.e., DISCARD.

Caution! Even if you think that only you can do it right, that doesn’t mean that only you can do it. This is where perfectionists stumble. Consider – an Executive Director earning $80,000 a year (plus benefits), and ostensibly working 40 hours per week (ha), is earning $48/hour. Does it really make sense for you to be the author of every article for the newsletter or to maintain the FAQs? Or should you be focusing on staff development, major donors and board interactions? If you honestly believe that only you can do the job, then mark the DO column. These items should be where your organization will derive the greatest benefit from your time.

Control freaks stumble when they contemplate handing off to a subordinate.  Delegating is scary, but successful delegation ultimately pays off. Staff get the chance to shine and the satisfaction of being responsible for jobs well done. So into the DELEGATE column put reviewing the copier contract, keeping FAQs up-to-date, managing and writing the newsletter, reviewing lower level staff, drafting new handbook pages. It may mean time to train your staff, but developing your staff is ultimately what will make you – and your organization – even more productive.

Superwomen and Supermen stumble on DISCARD. There is a subconscious fear that you will be thought less of if you don’t do every. single. thing. But DISCARD may be the most powerful action you can take. It forces you to stop and think about why a job is done at all.  Maybe the 8 page monthly newsletter should drop to 4 pages, or bimonthly, or not even exist. What purpose does it serve; would something else serve that purpose even better? Should stewarding the library fund donor be woven into the general donor stewardship program? Are all the board reports needed? Can you move to consent agendas? Should you drop the gala that nets $20,000 but has hidden labor costs of $50,000?

Deceptively simple, Do, Delegate, Discard is a powerful tool for managing your time, and empowering your staff. It’s a great way to begin the new year, and make room for all those NEW resolutions.