The executive director is the key person leading and managing a nonprofit organization. They serve as a linking point between the board of directors and the staff.  

The role might differ from organization to organization, but in general, the executive director is responsible for hiring staff, supervising all divisions, motivating the team, and making sure their operations abide by all laws and regulations. The executive director must keep transparent communication with the board of directors to help them guide the organization towards its mission.

When does a nonprofit need an executive director?

The right time for hiring an executive director might vary depending on the nonprofit’s size, experience, and daily operations. However, it is an important step to further the organization’s mission and develop new ideas. You might consider hiring a nonprofit executive director when:

  • The founders of the organization lack experience and leadership or simply would like to direct their focus on other businesses.
  • You need to develop or improve fundraising strategies or attract new donors. 
  • If your organization is financially stagnant, it might be a good indication that it’s time to bring in new, innovative, and professional leadership.
  • If your team lacks structure or has lost its collective focus, it might also be a good time to hire an executive director.

A good leader should come in and realign your team with the organization’s mission.

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The main skills of a nonprofit executive director

The role of an executive director requires an innovative leader with excellent communication skills able to represent the organization on all levels. Even though each nonprofit has different requirements, the main skills to look for in an executive director are typically the following:


The executive director must be comfortable leading, mentoring, inspiring, and overseeing people. A good leader must feel confident with strategic, financial, and organizational tasks and decisions.


The executive director must be confident handling all business aspects of the organization, from strategy and financial management to navigating, sometimes difficult, negotiations. Being professional means handling the role and the duties it lays on you respectfully and ethically. The role of an executive director is often considered as the embodiment of the organization, and thus, the person must stay professional — even outside office hours.

Communication skills

Along with other duties, being an executive director entails being a spokesperson for the organization. A good executive director can effectively communicate with stakeholders, such as the board of directors, donors and sponsors, regulators, clients, and other partners. They must be able to articulate the organization’s vision and mission and tailor the message to their audience. 

Effective communication can lead the organization to new clients, partners, and funding sources. Ensuring coherent, transparent communication inside the organization is another important aspect of the job as well.

Financial management skills

Even if an organization has a separate financial department, the executive director is often responsible for fundraising, attending events, giving presentations, and communicating the organization’s financial health to the board of directors. 

A good director can speak confidently to potential sponsors or donors. The ability to understand financial documents, such as budgets, cash flow, balance statements, tax returns, is a significant advantage as well.

Innovative thinking

Companies and organizations need to be innovative to survive and thrive in today’s business ecosystem. Having the experience and interest to bring innovation to an organization’s operations, enhancing technological advancement, and having the ability to come up with novel solutions to problems are worthwhile skills in an executive director. Innovative thinking skills can help ensure an organization’s competitiveness, attractiveness, and development.

How to help your board with growth and development processes

Board members are professionals with limited time resources; therefore, effective board management has become a challenging task for the executive director. Having the tools to operate remotely has become crucial for any organization navigating today’s professional landscape. 

Board management software offers powerful file-sharing services and security while effortlessly integrating scheduling and video conferencing tools. With board management software or a board meeting app, you can attend and arrange meetings remotely, have all the necessary documents on a centralized, secure platform, and effortlessly document decisions and conversations. 
Having a virtual boardroom also eliminates travel and time expenses and makes it easier for more members to attend meetings. For board development, access to virtual meetings can even help attract new members worldwide.


  1. “What Does an Executive Director Do at a Nonprofit?”. Rider University, 2021.
  2. Kosofsky, Sean. 2021. “The 9 Key Areas of Responsibility for a Nonprofit Executive Director”.

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