The True Role of the Executive Director

I believe strongly in collaboration, and I love to do whatever I can to help foster healthy communities — professionally, personally, and socially. This guest post from my friend Tim Heimerle at Hiring Karma marks the first of what I hope will be a long and fruitful series of posts from other relationship builders in the Seattle community and beyond. Enjoy! – Jen

By Tim Heimerle

As I’ve been moving through my most recent job search, I’ve been thinking a great deal about roles and responsibilities.  My search has been slightly schizophrenic, as I’ve been interviewing for both pure development and executive director positions.  And while these two elements of my search have been very different, there is perhaps one commonality between the two.

Put in the simplest terms, the job of a Development Director is to raise money. As many who have held this position will tell you, it is both an art and a science.  You deal with data, reporting, correspondence, personalities, psychology, ego and a myriad of other items. But at the end of the day, the most important task, in my opinion, of a Development Director is to build and maintain relationships.

As the leader of an organization, the Executive Director has a plethora of tasks to undertake as well: financial and human resource management, Board liaison, strategic planning, organizational representative, public speaker, chief marketer, programmatic leader, the list goes on and on. And again, at the end of the day, the most important task of an Executive Director is to build and maintain relationships whether it is with donors, community members, staff, volunteers, partner organizations, government officials or others.

When you consider this commonality, it becomes clear that one of the primary roles of an Executive Director is as a relationship builder, and thus, as a fundraiser as well. Many in the non-profit world will tell you that an Executive Director should expect to spend more than 50% of his/her time raising money, and I certainly wouldn’t argue with them.  Clearly, as chief relationship builder, the Executive Director is gathering resources 100% of the time.

This is certainly not an earth-shattering revelation. Executive Directors have been doing this work since the beginning of non-profits. However, the role of chief relationship builder is often forgotten or de-emphasized when Executive Directors are brought on board.  As someone who has spent the last 15 years working in partnership with Executive Directors, this deficit can have some unforeseen and perhaps negative consequences.

In this world which is growing more interconnected every second, the skills needed to build and maintain relationships are even more important.  And for non-profits who seek to serve the world and the greater community, these skills are a matter of life and death.

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