Nonprofit Executive Director: Overview, Roles, and Responsibilities

  • By: Gina Guy
  • January 19, 2023
5 Nonprofit Executive Director Responsibilities
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The nonprofit executive director role is critically important to the ongoing success of the organization. Take the preparatory steps needed for success.

An executive director oversees day-to-day operations within a nonprofit organization. While they work closely with the board of directors, their duties and role differs from nonprofit board responsibilities. Read on to learn the roles and responsibilities of a nonprofit executive director and how to become an executive director.

What is a Nonprofit Executive Director?

Within most nonprofit governance models, an executive director role is the highest position within an organization. They are appointed by the board of directors and responsible for managing the organization’s daily activities and directing the nonprofit to achieve its mission and vision. 

They also determine the right mix of talent, tools, and resources to implement programs effectively. The nonprofit executive director collaborates with the people in all the nonprofit board positions, especially the board chair.

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Nonprofit Executive Director Roles and Responsibilities

The nonprofit executive director is responsible for the following.

1. Leadership

Think of the executive director as the nonprofit organization’s president. This nonprofit leader oversees the directors of each department in the organization and represents their interests when reporting to the nonprofit board of directors. Department directors might include marketing, HR, fundraising, or product development. Typically, the executive director offers the department heads strategic guidance on processes related to their respective dockets. 

2. Programming & Board Development

The executive director works with the board to plan, create, and implement programs and activities to ensure they achieve their respective goals. As the board’s primary resource, the executive director assumes the following responsibilities:

  • Contribute to the selection of board members and act as a liaison between board and staff.
  • Inform the board of staff changes, donor information, ongoing campaign details, and any areas where departmental staff requires help.
  • Communicate any staff and volunteer engagement ideas and other concerns that call for the board’s involvement. 
  • Plan and prepare board meetings, meeting structure, and meeting agendas in coordination with the board’s chair.

3. Finance

While a nonprofit board has fiduciary duties, it falls on the executive director to oversee financial management of the organization. The nonprofit executive director is responsible for collaborating with the nonprofit treasurer, organizing fundraising campaigns, and positioning the entity for financial success. 

Additionally, the ED must be directly involved in the organization’s annual accounting cycle. Therefore, they must understand and interpret financial documents, including bookkeeping records, budget, cash flows, general financial statements, and analysis reports. They need not necessarily be a financial expert, but they must demonstrate financial competence to brainstorm real financial growth strategies. 

4. Compliance

The nonprofit executive director keeps tabs on all internal controls to ensure the organization complies with its fiduciary duties, financial plans, financial audits, and tax filing. This requires regularly communicating with the head of the finance department, hiring reliable and trustworthy staff, and overseeing various financial records. 

5. Technology

Executive directors should help their organization implement and adopt technology solutions that maximize productivity and streamline processes. EDs can track progress and increase productivity with board management software designed to keep everyone in a nonprofit organization working toward the same goals.

How to Become a Nonprofit Executive Director

Interested in becoming a nonprofit executive director? Follow these steps.

1. Earn a College Degree

Earning a college degree in your field gives you a distinct advantage when chasing leadership opportunities. For example, you could opt for a bachelor’s degree in a related field or pursue an advanced degree, such as an MBA program focused on nonprofit management. 

2. Secure an Internship

Hands-on experience through an internship is one of the best ways to become a nonprofit executive director or sit on the board. You can get broad exposure by volunteering, joining the strategic planning or fundraising committee, or organizing the organization’s next event. In addition, interning on a nonprofit’s board gives you high-level insights into its operations.

3. Secure Leadership Roles

Pursuing professional development opportunities and leadership roles helps grow your network, skills, and experience. A network of peers, strong mentorship, and job experience will open doors for you and help you become a nonprofit leader.

How Board Meeting Technology Improves Board Effectiveness

Leading an organization requires the right tools. OnBoard’s board intelligence platform offers an effective and easy solution to maximize the executive director’s role and increase board effectiveness. With the OnBoard platform, board members gain real-time access to board agendas, important board materials, and other meeting resources, so everyone arrives informed and ready to tackle the board’s business.

To improve meeting effectiveness, OnBoard’s drag-and-drop agenda builder makes assembling a board book faster than ever. OnBoard sends reminders about upcoming meetings, and then lets directors track who engages with board materials and for how long so they know what needs the most discussion. 

Download OnBoard’s free Meeting Minutes Template for an example of how the best boards write their minutes to accurately and legally reflect what occurred during the board meeting.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • What's the Difference between a CEO and Nonprofit Executive Director?

    The term executive director is commonly used in nonprofit entities, while for-profit companies use CEO. However, both refer to the highest-ranking executives of a corporation or organization.

  • How Long Should an Executive Director Stay at a Nonprofit?

    According to Nonprofit Quarterly, the average term for an executive director or CEO at small or midsize nonprofits is about six years.

  • Is the Executive Director the CEO of a Nonprofit?

    Yes. Similarly to a for-profit company's CEO, the executive director is the highest-ranking individual within a nonprofit.

  • What Makes a Good Nonprofit Executive Director?

    A nonprofit executive director should be an outstanding leader who constantly pursues growth and manages the staff, board, and other stakeholders to achieve positive outcomes for the nonprofit organization.

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About The Author

Gina Guy
Gina Guy
Gina Guy is an implementation consultant who specializes in working with nonprofit organizations get the most from their board meetings. She loves helping customers ease their workloads through their use of OnBoard. A Purdue University graduate, Gina enjoys refinishing furniture, running, kayaking, and traveling in her spare time. She lives in Monticello, Indiana, with her husband.