Executive Director Worst Practices

Executive Director Worst Practices

Continuing our series on “worst practices,” below is a partial list of worst practices in nonprofit executive leadership. These are directed at executive directors themselves.


·      Seeing your board members in an adversarial way instead of as partners. The best-run organizations treat the ED and the board roles as partners.

·      Failing to invest the necessary time in building trust and rapport with your chair and your full board (hint…do more of it). As an ED it is tempting to focus on fundraising, programs and impact. Don’t forget to focus on board relationships.

·      Neglecting your fundraising responsibilities. Many executive directors do not enjoy or like fundraising, so they put it off. Don’t do that. It’s a huge part of your role to find the resources to fund the work. Just do it. 

·      Neglecting your financial oversight responsibilities. Again, it’s tempting to focus on other things, but many organizations have had to close because of poor financial controls or oversight. It’s your job! 

·      Neglecting your human resources responsibilities. Don’t forget to ensure all staff are on-boarded, have job descriptions, given proper delegation, professional development and evaluation, etc. It’s time-consuming, but it’s the job. 

·      Neglecting to develop your staff and your board – constantly. The “feeding and caring” of the humans in your organization require your attention.

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·      Failing to develop the necessary infrastructure of your nonprofit (training, technology, etc.). Set up the organization for the future. Grow your technology and lists and knowledge.

·      Demonstrating dysfunctional (emotional or personal) conflict in the workplace. Emotions aren’t bad. Emotional conflict usually is unproductive.

·      Allowing nepotism, favoritism, or biases to influence how you treat employees

·      Neglecting to plan long-term for the health of the organization. Think way beyond your fiscal year. Think about your legacy.

·      Not investing the time to craft a powerful case for support.

·      Seeing your predecessor or your successor in a competitive light

·      Getting sucked into a scarcity mindset. Instead, see abundance.

·      Not caring what happens to the organization after you leave. The sign of a good leader is making sure that the things they build last.

 ·      Concealing financial problems from the board. Don’t be a martyr. Be transparent.

·      Failing to stay in full compliance with state and federal regulations 

·      Failing to make sure your organization follows its own policies and bylaws

Which 501 (c) are You?

Which 501 (c) are You?