I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what enables an executive director to be successful.
I’ve had both good and not-so-good experiences serving as CEO of nonprofits, and it seems to me that the most important element–the sine qua non of nonprofit success–is accountability, both of the volunteers and of the staff.
The relationship between the board chair and the ED is a microcosm of the larger relationship. While the ED may be leading the organization as a whole, the board chair is responsible for guiding. motivating, and holding accountable the board of trustees.
I’m a big fan of fairly detailed job descriptions for volunteers as well as paid staff. Increasingly, I’m also a fan of asking board members to sign their job description, as a way of acknowledging the responsibility they’re taking on. But I’ve had board leadership tell me, “These are volunteers–you can’t hold them accountable.” I couldn’t disagree more.
Sometimes an organization can weather a period of weak leadership, but in times of significant change, the board and staff MUST have a shared vision and a shared sense of what has to be accomplished to make that vision a reality, and everyone has to be accountable for their part of it–otherwise, it’s just not happening.