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Eating an Elephant: The First 90 Days of a New #ExecutiveDirector

Updated: Jun 6

Eating an Elephant: The First 90 Days of a New #ExecutiveDirector

With the Great Resignation comes an influx of new leaders in the #nonprofit sector. The general discomfort of any new job - combined with the cracks in the organizational foundation of many nonprofits - can feel overwhelming for even the most experienced directors. But there is only one way to eat an elephant.

First Bite: Establish relationships with your, #BoardofDirectors, Staff,

and key stakeholders. Run – don’t walk – to meet with anyone and everyone who may influence/impact your success at the organization. Your relationship with your board, particularly your board chair is primary. Schedule a set monthly meeting for the two of you to collab. Meet with each of your board members in a private setting so you can get to know them on a personal level, and vice-versa. The same goes for your staff. Learn about who they are, what they do, and why they do it. These early relationships will likely establish the relationships with the very people who will act as your confidants, mentors, and allies throughout your time with the organization and even beyond.

Second Bite: Get to know the organization inside and out. Become remarkably familiar with the financials, program, policies and procedures, and general operations. Identify the gaps (those foundational cracks) so you can prioritize.

Third Bite: Train to lead a nonprofit. If you have never worked in the nonprofit sector, this is a no-brainer. As an experienced lawyer, I knew how to file a complaint, take a deposition, and write an appeal, but I didn’t have the first clue about running a nonprofit or a business in general. But I committed to learning anything and everything that I could about best practices in nonprofit governance and management. I took every course, attended every lecture, joined every organization, and read every book. Even once I became experienced, I continued to take courses because there is always more to learn. “You'll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” ― Julia Child.

I know how lonely being an Executive Director can be. I remember well how long the first weeks and even year are when you never know what the day will bring you in the way of surprises. Take a deep breath. Remember, just one bite at a time!


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