By Amy Eisenstein 7 Comments

If you’ve ever heard me speak before, you know how passionate I am about fundraising and nonprofit leadership. My “no-nonsense” attitude comes across loud and clear about board members’ roles and responsibilities with regard to giving as well as the executive director’s important role in fundraising.

The following might seem more like a rant, which may help you confirm or deny your feelings about certain aspects of nonprofit leadership and get you agitated about others. Either way, speak up in the comments. Your opinions are just as valid as mine.

Nonprofit Leadership: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I didn’t distinguish the following into categories of “good, bad or ugly,” as many of the topics could fit under more than one heading depending on the situation.

1. Executive directors and nonprofit staff are generally underpaid.

This is something I feel extremely strongly about. Sometimes this stems from a true lack of financial resources, but often it’s some crazy perception by the public and/or the organization’s leadership that people should be paid poorly in our sector. I couldn’t disagree more. If the general public and supporters of our organizations truly want the organizations to be run efficiently and effectively, then we need to pay people with skills and competencies to do the job.

As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for,” which is why so many nonprofits are running into the ground these days. If possible, give raises each year to the staff you want to keep. (And fire the others—don’t wait for them to get the hint.)

2. Executive directors are passionate about the mission and the cause of their organizations.

This is clearly under the “good” category, because I have yet to come across an executive director who doesn’t feel passionately about their organization. Koodos to them!

3. Board members often don’t know what they’re doing.

Board members, in theory, are the leaders of our organizations. But unfortunately they often haven’t been recruited properly, given good direction, job descriptions, training, or expectations. Although there are certainly exceptions, I find that most boards are a major work in progress.

Boards are essential for successful fundraising. So help your board leadership by providing them with the training, resources and the direction and guidance they need to be effective leaders as well as passionate about your organization.

4. Executive directors need to lead the board, not be led by board members.

Although the board is “the boss” of the executive director, when executive directors don’t provide leadership, the organization flounders. If you’re an executive director, don’t let the board walk all over you. You are in the daily grind, and they should not be micromanaging. Although I’m sure some of my nonprofit colleagues will disagree with me on this, the executive director needs a heavy hand in creating agendas and goal setting for the board.

5. Executive directors must fundraise.

Need I say more?

6. Our organizations are making the world a better place.

Despite all of my complaints above, I do love the nonprofit sector because individually and collectively, we are truly making the world a better place.

A Final Note to Executive Directors

Invest in yourselves and your staff.

I was at lunch with a colleague the other day who personally pays for all of her professional development. I was horrified. If you want your staff to stick around and be with you for the long haul, you need to invest in them as well as yourself. I’m sure that you probably didn’t go to school to become an executive director, so make sure you are the best you can be by going to management and fundraising classes.

You are here:  Home General Fundraising The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Nonprofit Leadership

Amy Eisenstein

About Amy Eisenstein
Amy Eisenstein, MPA, CFRE is a fundraising consultant for local and national nonprofits. She’s raised millions of dollars through event planning, grant writing, capital campaigns, and major gift solicitations. Her “no-nonsense” approach to fundraising yields big results for her clients and followers.

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Posted on 25 April 2011

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Sandra says:

    “Board members often don’t know what they’re doing.” — often true. In my experience many of them have a strong passion for the mission. They just don’t have board member “job training” prior to accepting the role. When members miss meetings, retreats or training events this compounds the problems for them personally and the board as a whole.

  2. Scott Zagarino says:

    “5. Executive directors must fundraise.” Thank you.


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