Top Ten Things I Wish I Had Known as a New Executive Director

1. You don’t have to attend all meetings and trainings. Be selective and reserve space for mission-focused or direct-stream obligations.


2. You aren’t born a natural manager. Hire a coach or obtain management training because...


3. Your people are your most important asset. Manage them properly, invest time and money in them, and provide perks and professional development.


4. Take care of you. See a therapist or other trusted adviser regularly. Maintain healthy eating and sleep habits. Be an example for your team.


5. Just because you built it doesn’t mean they will come. Involve your stakeholders in decisions about products, services, and programs before you spend all your time and effort creating something they don’t want, no matter how well intentioned or mission focused.


6. Don’t just take the money. When offered money by a donor, consider the following two points: (1) Is the money mission focused?; and (2) Do we have the capacity to accept the gift and honor the obligations?


7. In fundraising, unless it’s a clear “No,” it’s a “Maybe.” The donor is interested; you just need to find her/his “Why.”


8. The work never ends, which means you need to set 3-5 priorities every day and go home when they are done. See points #3 and #4 for why this is important.


9. You can’t afford to get comfortable. Do things differently from how you “have always done” them. If you can’t, hire a consultant to help you.


10. Create a culture that always asks whether decisions are mission focused. Don’t ever make a decision that isn’t.


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