If you’re the executive director, what’s your job? What is your scope of responsibility? What are the limits of your authority?

No matter what your actual title is, I think you are the chief executive officer. In the for-profit sector, your job title might be president and CEO.

Yes, you’re the top dog, the pinnacle of the pyramid. You’re the head of the corporation. And you partner with the board of directors to ensure the health and effectiveness of the corporation.

But what, specifically do you do? You lead. You guide. You enable. (Check out those enabling functions described in my column from December 2009) You manage effectively. You develop leaders for the organization—and leaders to replace you, eventually.

So here’s my job description of the CEO. What do you think? Does your CEO do this? Do you do this if you’re the CEO?

By the way, visit my website and you’ll find a performance-appraisal process for this CEO job description.

Position Title: Executive Director

Reports to: Board of Directors

Reporting to this position: Depends upon the organization

Job Summary

The Executive Director serves as chief executive of ABC Organization and, in partnership with the Board, is responsible for the success of ABC Organization. Together, the Board and Executive Director ensure ABC Organization’s relevance to the community, the accomplishment of ABC Organization’s mission and vision, and the accountability of ABC Organization to its diverse constituents.

The Board delegates responsibility for management and day-to-day operations to the Executive Director, and s/he has the authority to carry out these responsibilities, in accordance with the direction and policies established by the Board. The Executive Director provides direction and enabling to the Board as it carries out its governance functions.


1. Legal and regulatory compliance

a) Ensures the filing of all legal and regulatory documents and monitors compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

2. Mission, policy, and planning

a)      Helps the Board determine ABC’s values, mission, vision, and short- and long-term goals.

b)      Helps the Board monitor and evaluate ABC’s relevancy to the community, its effectiveness, and its results.

c)       Keeps the Board fully informed on the condition of ABC and on all the important factors influencing it.

·         Identifies problems and opportunities and addresses them; brings those that are appropriate to the Board and/or its committees; and facilitates discussion and deliberation.

·         Informs the Board and its committees about trends, issues, problems, and activities in order to facilitate policy-making. Recommends policy positions.

d)      Keeps informed of developments in the organization’s area of work, and also in nonprofit management and governance, philanthropy, and fund development.

e)      ensures that the appropriate policies are in place to guide the organization’s work in all areas.

3. Management and administration

a)      Provides general oversight of all ABC activities, manages the day-to-day operations, holds staff accountable while directing and delegating the day-to-day operations, and ensures a smoothly functioning, efficient organization.

b)      Ensures program quality and organizational stability through development and implementation of standards and controls, systems and procedures, and regular evaluation.

c)      Ensures a work environment that recruits, retains, and supports quality staff and volunteers. Ensures process for selecting, developing, motivating, and evaluating staff and volunteers.

d)      Recommends staffing, staff compensation, and financing to the Board of Directors. In accordance with Board action, recruits personnel, negotiates professional contracts, and sees that appropriate salary structures are developed and maintained.

e)      Specifies accountabilities for management personnel (whether paid or volunteer), ensures ongoing feedback, and conducts formal performance appraisal annually.

4. Governance

a)      Helps the Board articulate its own role and accountabilities and that of its committees and individual members, and helps evaluate performance regularly.

b)      Works with the Board President / Chair to enable the Board to fulfill its governance functions, and manages the Board’s due diligence process to ensure timely attention to core issues.

c)       With the Board President / Chair, focuses Board attention on long-range strategic issues.

d)      Works with the Board officers and committee chairs to get the best thinking and involvement of each Board member and to stimulate each Board member to give his or her best.

e)      Recommends volunteers to participate in the Board and its committees.

5. Finance

a)      Promotes programs and services that are produced in a cost-effective manner, employing economy while maintaining an acceptable level of quality.

b)      Oversees the fiscal activities of the organization, including budgeting, reporting, and audit, and ensures adequate controls.

c)       Works with Board to ensure financing to support short- and long-term goals.

6. Philanthropy and fund development

a)      Fosters a culture of philanthropy throughout the organization, and ensures a donor-centered organization that nurtures loyalty through a comprehensive relationship-building program.

b)      Ensures an effective fund development program by serving as the chief development officer or hiring and supervising an individual responsible for this activity.

c)       Ensures a comprehensive gift management system, analysis, and reporting to support quality decision making.

d)      Ensures the availability of materials to support solicitation.

e)      Provides leadership in developing and implementing the organization’s fundraising plan and monitoring the plan’s progress.

f)       Helps ensure that Board members carry out philanthropy and fund development activities.

g)      Participates actively in identifying, cultivating, and soliciting donor prospects.

7. Relationship building

a)      Identifies the key relationships necessary to support an effective organization and ensures proper planning, relationship building, and communications to develop and maintain these.

b)      Facilitates the integration of the organization into the fabric of the community by ensuring the use of effective marketing and communications activities.

c)       Acts as an advocate, within the public and private sectors, for issues relevant to ABC, its services, and its constituencies.

d)      Listens to clients, staff, volunteers, donors, and the community in order to improve services and generate community involvement. Ensures community awareness of ABC’s response to community needs.

e)      Serves as chief spokesperson for ABC, ensuring proper representation of ABC to the community.

f)       Works with legislators, regulatory agencies, volunteers, and representatives of the nonprofit sector to promote legislative and regulatory policies that encourage a healthy community and address the issues of ABC’s constituencies.

Executive Limitations: Look at John Carver’s writings. Great stuff!

Physical Demands/Working Conditions:

This is a senior position holding full responsibility for ABC operations. Handles detailed, complex concepts and problems, balances multiple tasks simultaneously, and makes rapid decisions regarding administrative issues.

Plans and implements programs. Establishes strong and appropriate relationships with Board, committees, volunteers, staff, donors, and clients. Develops smooth and constructive relationships with executive colleagues, outside agencies, organizations, and individuals.

Plans and meets deadlines. Maintains a flexible work schedule to meet the demands of executive management. Hours may be long and irregular.

Conveys a professional and positive image and attitude regarding ABC and the nonprofit sector. Demonstrates commitment to continued professional growth and development.

Is a decisive individual who possesses a big-picture perspective and is well versed in systems.


A Bachelor’s Degree is required with a minimum of 5 years experience in a senior management position. As Chief Executive Officer, this individual demonstrates critical competencies in four broad categories: commitment to results, business savvy, leading change, and motivating.

Commitment to results: The Executive Director is a systems thinker who is customer focused and goal driven. This individual identifies relevant information and helps transform this information into individual and organizational knowledge and learning. The chief executive is action oriented and innovative. S/he translates broad goals into achievable steps. S/he anticipates and solves problems and takes advantage of opportunities, is a self-starter and team player.

Business savvy: As ABC’s leader, this position requires an individual with knowledge of and experience in management and administration. The position requires demonstrated experience in integrating and coordinating diverse areas of management.

  • Knowledge in the following areas is required: the organization’s mission/service and general business management
  • Some experience in the field of philanthropy, nonprofit management, and governance is preferred. Some general knowledge of fund development is also preferred.
  • A high level of personal skills and comfort with diversity are required to deal effectively with people from all segments of the community.
  • Ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing.
  • An excellent negotiator

Leading change: The chief executive possesses the skills and implements the functions of a leader. S/he shares ABC’s values, mission, and vision. S/he consistently displays integrity, models behavior, develops people, and builds productive teams. This individual deals effectively with demanding situations, and designs and implements interventions. S/he leads the continuous improvement effort.

Motivating: The chief executive manages continuity, change, and transition. This individual knows how to influence and enable others. S/he addresses the impact of attitude and action on the ABC and its participants.