Open Letter to New Executive Directors

Dear Executive Director Following a Founder,

If this were easy, it would be easy. The job of serving as the first Executive Director after a founder–in any situation, in any organization, in any economy–is probably the hardest job in the nonprofit sector.

Taking it on requires tough skin and an iron stomach. And somehow, through it all, being steadfast in exhibiting excellent management skills, strategic vision, an ability to generate excitement and bring in partners, and more. One person, even a strong leader, alone cannot accomplish the job. This job is big. And probably, typically, best designed as an Interim Position.

If the situation presented to you by the board upon your employment was anything like typical, you’ve had to generate fresh programming and refresh the institutional identity on not much more than spit and duct tape.

And if you’re feeling discouraged, it’s because you’ve been trying things and the results aren’t as dramatic as you’d hoped. Probably you’re looking at financials that haven’t much changed.

It’s reasonable to get tired and to feel discouraged and burned out, which happens anytime you try and give everything and the early results suggest it didn’t matter.

Don’t give up. Together, you and new, trusted board members can examine the remaining problems with straight up honesty and integrity. You need to be “critical friends” (emphasis on both) to each other and to the organization. You need to develop (with key allies) an energizing vision and a credible plan for turning things around and moving everything ahead. The beautiful thing is the potential impact a renewed organization can have.

Good luck, and my sincere wishes for inspiration, wisdom, courage, friendship, and creative expression,