The role of executive director (ED) is tough, especially in the nonprofit sector. For those of us who have shared in this experience, we can validate the late nights pouring over spreadsheets, the constant phone calls throughout the week and sometimes weekend and the pressure to lead, fundraise, manage and market all at the same time. Not to mention the countless speeches, rubber chicken dinners, hiring's, firing's and major changes in philanthropy that we must keep up with.
These and many other facts of the job have made it less attractive over the years. Story after story of how the role has taken over that person’s life have begun to sink into the next generations mind as we enter our time to lead. Fewer millennials have an interest in leading in a position that is so restrictive and time consuming. The current generation fought tirelessly for social change. The next generation of leaders will need to fight for social acceptance.
So how do you persuade millennials to step into executive director roles when its time?
Bring it back to the conviction that got you the job. Find that core belief about the population you serve or about your abilities as an innovator again. Start allowing that to guide your speeches, your team meetings and your affiliations.
Put into place your succession plan. Like in your personal life, you wouldn't leave your family to deal with your affairs and just take off. Put into place a constructive plan that identifies 3 things.
What does this look like?
Marketing is something that I believe all of us in the nonprofit sector can say has been dropped in our laps at certain points in our careers. So, we go to work marketing our brand, our stories and how you the donor fit into that. But we forget our other audience. The future leader. The executive director role has a marketing problem…. but it doesn’t have to.
Progressive Philanthropy. This is a culture that I have worked very hard to encourage in the last 2 years with the various organizations I am supporting. It stems from 12 years’ experience in the field of fund development and donor engagement. It has morphed as I have learned and mentored others. It sits on a bedrock of universal values that guide my policy making. But what does it look like? For me, there are 3 keys to my philosophy of progressive philanthropy.
The first is impartiality. It is critical that we as fundraisers hold objective, fair and consistent approaches for collecting and evaluating information. Furthermore, we then must use this impartiality to treat all people and causes with equity. If done habitually, this should be the first thing donors see and trust about us.
The second thing is an affirmation through personal giving of a dedication to the philanthropic sector. Leading by example is one of the first things we are taught it takes to be a truly deserving leader. But leadership is about followership. And what better way to follow than to give generously of your treasure. This is an area in which all development staff, volunteers and board members can be challenged and grown.
The third thing is a mindfulness within relationship building. While most of a major gifts or volunteer coordinators job description is to build relationships that will lead to a sustainable monetary gain for their organization down the road; officers of these roles need to practice mindfulness as well. Attention to birthdays, life situations, relationships and quality of life are important factors to have in donor file. Networking events are a great way to practice mindfulness. Simple phone calls during off seasons to check in on donors and see how they are can be mindful acts.
Progressive Philanthropy isn't a buzz phrase that we can just throw out from time to time. It needs to be a series of practices that be believe in and work to habitually duplicate in our colleagues and our donors. It is a rejection of an individualistic ideology in fundraising and an acceptance of a philosophy that asserts the well-being of all involved as equal.
Debbink has been fundraising for nonprofits for over 10 years and brings an undeniable capacity to board governance, public relations and events management. He is the author of The Governors (c) a historical collection of the political careers of 5 prominent governors.