Q&A: What leadership qualities are sought in a nonprofit Executive Director?
A: The obvious leadership qualities of a nonprofit Executive Director include: vision; passion for the mission; strategic planning ability; financial management skills (budgeting, observance of accounting protocols, working knowledge of applicable tax laws); ability to communicate in writing and in speech with multiple stakeholders: problem-solving skills, and working knowledge of applicable employment/compliance laws and regulations. Cultural competence is often another valued skill as are the abilities to work closely with a demanding board, conduct board training/capacity building and perform recruitment.
In addition to these, many organizations are looking for strong resource generation skills. Given the present state of the economy, these development skills may trump others. The rationale is simple: Without financial resources, the organization/mission will perish. No organization is sustainable without appropriate financial support. Those with development experience and with a working knowledge of how to build interest, sponsorship and financial support from various sources are most likely to succeed as Executive Directors. The financial health of the organization rests with them, and they will be able to maximize the organization’s potential simply because they have the skills and talents to keep financial support continuous.
Finally, another embedded trait is that of having a personal sense of urgency and accountability about meeting the organizational mission. Exceptional leaders hold themselves personally accountable for outcomes despite the challenges associated with delivering results.