The Executive Director’s Guide to Thriving As A Nonprofit Leader


Second Edition, 7-1/2″ x 9″, Softcover, 312 pages, Wiley.

SKU: CED002 Category:


Nonprofit leadership is one of the biggest and most challenging jobs anyone can ever love.

While the work itself is normally straightforward, the issues, relationships, competing priorities, and environment constantly change, and the constant scarcity of resources demands passion, focus, and leadership.

The Executive Director’s Guide to Thriving as a Nonprofit Leader brings you a new perspective and new tools for leadership.

This revised edition includes thoroughly updated information and new content. It covers timely issues and practical strategies including: avoiding burnout, accountability, professional networking, financial literacy, measuring effectiveness, and much more.

Ideal for executive directors and board members, this practical guide also includes new cases and stories from the field and insightful tips sidebars.

Table of Contents

PART ONE Finding Your Way as Executive Director

ONE Understanding This Big Job

  • What are the roles and responsibilities of an Executive Director?
  • What is the difference between a leader and a manager?
  • When should an Executive Director lead, manage, or support others?

TWO Developing as an Executive Director

  • What can Executive Directors do to self-reflect on skills they wish to develop on the job?
  • How does an Executive Director find the time for professional development, and what opportunities are available?
  • When are executive coaches helpful to an Executive Director?
  • When the going gets really tough, how does an Executive Director stay inspired?

THREE Finding Balance in the Role of Executive Director

  • Why are Executive Directors so susceptible to burnout?
  • How can I find balance as an Executive Director?
  • How do I set boundaries on my work life so I still have a personal life?
  • Where do I find the time to do everything an Executive Director has to do?
  • How can an Executive Director delegate when everyone is already busy?

PART TWO Executive Director as Visionary

FOUR Understanding Nonprofit Organizational Culture

  • What does organizational culture mean?
  • How does understanding the organization’s culture help the Executive Director be more effective?
  • How does an Executive Director determine what the organization’s culture is?
  • What are some strategies for changing or moving an organization’s culture to where it needs to be in order to be successful?

FIVE Embracing Your Organization’s Values

  • What are organization values and how are they found within an organization’s culture?
  • How does an Executive Director establish values as the guiding principles in the organization?
  • What is cultural competence and why is it so important?
  • How does an Executive Director lead a culturally competent organization?

SIX Creating a Vision and Plan

  • What is a vision and why is it important?
  • How does the Executive Director lead the way to having a shared organizational vision?
  • Why is planning important to an organization’s vision, and what is the Executive Director’s role in this process?
  • If you’re always in crisis or catch-up mode as an Executive Director, how do you find time to plan?

SEVEN Determining Organizational Effectiveness

  • What does an effective nonprofit organization look like?
  • How soon after starting should the Executive Director begin to examine the organization’s effectiveness?
  • How does an Executive Director tie personal performance and effectiveness to that of the organization?
  • What happens if the Board and Executive Director determine the organization is no longer effective?

PART THREE Executive Director as Change Agent

EIGHT Embracing a Changing Nonprofit Environment

  • Why is change synonymous with the identity of the nonprofit sector?
  • What role does the Executive Director have in making change happen outside the organization?
  • How are the lines that have traditionally defined the business and nonprofit sectors changing?
  • What can the Executive Director do to influence funders’ efforts to shape the nonprofit sector?
  • How does the Executive Director manage effectively through boom-and-bust economic cycles?
  • What are some of the new demands for accountability and measurable outcomes in nonprofits?
  • How are rapid changes in technology impacting the nonprofit workplace?

NINE Understanding Changing Life Cycle Stages in Nonprofits

  • What life cycle stage is my organization in?
  • What skills does an Executive Director need in each stage?

TEN Leading Organizational Change

  • How can Executive Directors help their nonprofits embrace a healthy change process?
  • What is the Executive Director’s role and that of the Board, other staff, and volunteers in a change process?
  • How soon after a new Executive Director is hired should a change process begin?

PART FOUR Executive Director as Relationship Builder

ELEVEN Nurturing a Relationship with the Board

  • What are the attributes of an effective Board, and what does it take to create one?
  • What does a healthy relationship between a Board and its Executive Director look like, and how is it established?
  • How does one differentiate between Board and Executive Director responsibilities?
  • What information does the Board need, and how often?
  • Who makes what decisions in a nonprofit?

TWELVE Developing Relationships with Individual Board Members

  • How important is the relationship between the Executive Director and the Board Chair?
  • What do you do if problems arise between you and the Board Chair?
  • What should an Executive Director do with a renegade Board member?
  • If Board members are not fulfilling their responsibilities, what can an Executive Director do?
  • How much influence should an Executive Director have when recruiting new Board members?

THIRTEEN Establishing Productive Staff Relationships

  • How does an Executive Director who is new to an organization build quick credibility with paid and unpaid staff?
  • How does an Executive Director encourage positive relationships and establish a healthy culture among staff and volunteers?
  • What are ways to build leadership and management skills among paid and unpaid staff?
  • How does an Executive Director work across the generations to have staff work productively together?
  • What are strategies for establishing strong lines of communication with staff?
  • How can technology aid relationships and be used as an effective communication tool with staff?
  • How does an Executive Director offer and receive support from staff and volunteers while keeping an arm’s-length relationship?

FOURTEEN Following the Founder

  • Why do relationships with Founders in transition tend to be so complicated?
  • What is the best way for an Executive Director to work with a Founder who is still a member of the Board of Directors?
  • What does the Executive Director do if the Founder is causing serious problems for the organization?
  • What are the pros and cons of having the Founder stay on as a staff person or consultant?

PART FIVE Executive Director as Community Creator

FIFTEEN Engaging External Stakeholders

  • Who are an organization’s external stakeholders?
  • How can the Executive Director develop and nurture relationships with key stakeholders?
  • How does an Executive Director rally stakeholders for advocacy?

SIXTEEN Embracing Partnerships and Collaboration.

  • How can Executive Directors assess the values and risks of leading their organizations into partnerships?
  • What are ways organizations can work together informally, and how does an Executive Director make this happen?
  • What forms of partnership exist beyond collaboration?
  • How can Executive Directors prepare their organizations to enter into partnerships?

PART SIX Executive Director as Resource Wizard

SEVENTEEN Ensuring Sound Financial Management

  • What are the major differences between for-profit and nonprofit finances?
  • Who takes the lead in fulfilling the various financial management roles in a nonprofit?
  • What financial reports do the Board, staff, and volunteers need to see and how often?
  • What is the Board’s role in the budgeting process?
  • After the Board passes a budget, what authority does the Executive Director have to implement programs or contracts?
  • If there is a financial crisis, what does the Executive Director tell the Board and staff?

EIGHTEEN Sustaining the Organization with Team-Based Fundraising

  • Who has the primary responsibility for raising money in a nonprofit?
  • How much of an Executive Director’s time should be spent raising money?
  • Where do nonprofits find funds for overhead costs of administration and building infrastructure?

PART SEVEN Executive Director in Transition

NINETEEN Planning for Healthy Transitions of Leadership

  • Why is succession planning important?
  • How can an Executive Director integrate practices that support succession planning throughout the organization?
  • Where does continuity or knowledge management fit within the framework of succession planning?
  • What does an emergency succession plan look like?

TWENTY Moving On: Making Your Own Career Transition

  • How will I know it is time for a career move?
  • Why is the decision to leave so difficult for the Executive Director and the organization?
  • How can the departing Executive Director make the leadership transition run smoothly?
  • What are some typical career paths for former Executive Directors?

About the Authors

Margaret Donohoe is a nonprofit consultant who focuses her experience, insight, and energy on helping a new generation of nonprofit leaders navigate the many opportunities and challenges of this career choice. She has more than twenty-five years’ experience in the sector as an executive director, interim director for organizations in transition, and community board member.

Mim Carlson is the former executive director of the Berkeley–East Bay Humane Society and is currently interim executive director at Florence Crittenton Services. With over twenty-five years of experience as a manager and grant writer, Carlson has trained and consulted nationally and is a former faculty member at the University of San Francisco and California State University, Hayward.


Chapter One: Understanding This Big Job


The Executive Director’s Guide to Thriving as a Nonprofit Leader is guaranteed. If you are not 100% satisfied, you may return it within 30 days for a full refund.



“This book is a gift for nonprofit leaders in all stages of their careers. With clarity and profound simplicity, it dissects the otherwise overwhelming role of the nonprofit executive director into understandable components that can then be made workable (and even fulfilling!). It is a highly readable and practical road map for success.”
— Molly Polidoroff,
Executive director, Center for Excellence in Nonprofits

The Executive Director’s Guide to Thriving as a Nonprofit Leader not only clearly and concisely identifies the most critical issues of nonprofit leadership, but it also provides the resources and answers to those challenges. It will be required reading for both the most seasoned executive as well as the emerging leader.”
— Bill Coy,
Director of leadership practice, La Piana Consulting

“I provide The Executive Director’s Guide to Thriving as a Nonprofit Leaderto all new executive directors placed by my firm. They find it to be a great resource during their orientation to a new organization, new people, and new challenges, and it continues to be a support as issues come up in their work over the years. It’s comprehensive and sensible, and the authors’ great knowledge and respect for nonprofit executives shine through.”
— Susan Egmont,
Consultant, Egmont Associates