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The Five Top Responsibilities of a Chief Executive
By Denise K. Spencer / August 13, 2010

As the demand grows for me to offer mentoring to nonprofit leaders, both board and staff, this seems to be a most often asked question, "What are the top five responsibilities of a nonprofit chief executive?"  I included these thoughts in an issue of  our newsletter some time ago, but the topic continues to be heavily discussed in the sector.  

Most certainly every nonprofit leader would answer this question differently; I would be very interested in hearing the list other nonprofit chief executives would offer.

Here is my list:

1) The Care and Feeding of the Board.  The health of the organization is largely dependent upon the health of the board.  Toward that end, the Chief Executive must make sure that the board members understand their roles, individually and collectively—including responsibilities and risks.  The Chief Executive must also assure that the board has the information and data needed to make good decisions.

2) Cleaning until it Squeaks.  It is critical that the organization, from a legal, ethical, accounting transparency, conflict of interest/loyalty, and confidentiality standpoint, operates above reproach, and this requires constant tending and continuous improvement.

3) Laser-focus on the Vision/Mission.  Jointly, the board and staff establish the vision and mission of the organization, and it is part of the role of the Chief Executive to be constantly focused on taking the organization there.  This drives the daily work of the board and staff, and should be the cornerstone of decision-making and operations.

4) Parental Passion.  The Chief Executive must protect and defend, with parental passion, the assets of the organization.  Assets include staff, volunteers, clients, board, donors, alumni (former members of any and all of these groups), data and reputation, as well as whatever appears on the balance sheet. 

5) Being a Leader that People Want to Follow.  People want to be proud of their leader.  They want a leader who has a reasonable and inclusive approach to decision-making, respect for all members of the team, a positive outlook, and a good public face for the organization.  Such a leader removes the barriers, approves the resource allocation (budgeted against the strategic plan), and provides the opportunities and permissions to allow the organization to move forward. 

Sometimes, when up to my knees in the muck of daily problems, it helps me to review my own list.  Am I losing focus?  Am I recalling what is most important?  I’ve spent almost my entire career in the nonprofit sector, and I’m still working to improve my performance on all of these fronts.  But just imagine, if all nonprofit leaders worked hard to improve in all of these areas as well, not only would our sector be much better, but the other sectors (business, government) would be looking to us to learn our secrets! 

This list is an important part of the everyday matters that make EVERY DAY MATTER in our sector and beyond!  Your comments, as always, are welcome.

Denise K. Spencer

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