The Era of the Nonprofit CEO

In Learning Network by Shelli Bischoff

Reshape the Future: Be a Nonprofit CEO. That’s the name of our new course focused on the skills, mindset, and confidence necessary to succeed as the chief executive of a nonprofit organization.

Finalizing that title took some time. I want to share the story behind it because it paints a picture of not just what the nonprofit sector needs from its future CEOs, but also what those CEOs need from the sector.

Why CEO?

Yes, CEO is a term from the private sector. But it’s not a misnomer. Nonprofit organizations are corporations. They are governed by bylaws and articles of incorporation. Their boards of directors are corporate governing bodies with legal responsibilities for duty of care, loyalty, and obedience.

So, why not CEO? Not only is the chief executive of a nonprofit as important a position as CEO of a private business or foundation, the role and level of responsibility is the same. A nonprofit CEO is ultimately responsible for the organization’s bottom line (in terms of mission and finances) and the overall health of the organization and its people. And in a mission-driven organization, the CEO’s actions impact lives and change the world!

Why not Leader?

We also decided to drop the word leader from the title. While leadership is an important function of a nonprofit CEO, it’s only a part of what it takes to succeed and make an impact.

Far more important is the word at the root of “executive” – execute.

ex·e·cute_ verb graphic explanation

Likewise, an executive is dynamic – they don’t just lead; they act! And they are part of the larger whole (rather than with followers). In addition to leadership skills, nonprofit CEOs also need the skills, mindset, and confidence to manage strategic initiatives, balance budgets, relate to donors, participants, and members, integrate new technologies, and constantly refresh to ensure their organization stays relevant and makes an impact.

Since this course is designed with this comprehensive perspective on the job of nonprofit CEO, the word ‘leader’ had to go.

Reshape the Future

“Reshape the future” speaks to the reality that the next generation of nonprofit executives will do it differently. They will be proactive and provocative. They will see their boards as indispensable strategists and advisors. They will build inspired teams and new, productive partnerships. They will turn the drudgery of fundraising into the thrill of successfully securing investments. And, they will demand the work-life balance necessary for both organizational and personal health and well-being and to be paid what they are worth. They will reshape the role and truly define what it means to be a nonprofit CEO.

The title nonprofit CEO signifies a new era and implies that things can, and will, be done differently by top level nonprofit executives.

Ready to get started? Learn about our new online training program starting this March, Reshape the Future: Be a Nonprofit CEO. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic so send us a note or give us a call.

Image by Pierre Amerlynck