The Clairvoyant Executive Director

It’s never been easy being a nonprofit executive director and these days a normally challenging job has been made even harder by unprecedented circumstances.

Based on recent conversations with dozens of executive directors, EDs are being asked to do something that only a few other professions, such as those working on infectious diseases, are being asked to do:  look into their crystal balls and know the future. The absurdity of this notion, when taken out of context, is obvious. But that same absurdity seems lost on Read more

The Clairvoyant Executive Director December 7th, 2020 0 Comment

When Founders Leave

News flash for anyone connected to a nonprofit led by a
founder or much loved, long-serving executive director:  someday that person is going to leave.  Regardless of timing or circumstance, when it
comes to replacing that iconic leader, the board is likely going to make one of
the biggest mistakes possible.  One that
is preventable.  

Let’s review the common mistakes boards make when hiring the
next executive director.  The most
egregious is not having created a succession plan long before it was time to
even think about hiring the next executive director.  Read more

Disrespecting Nonprofit Leadership

We truly are our own worst enemies, a key purveyor of the negative images of nonprofits that the larger public whole-heartedly believes and takes as gospel.  If we want to dispel those myths—and we absolutely should—we must start on the inside.

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What sparked this?  Don’t ask me why, but The Brady Bunch theme song is tromping on my brain:  here’s the story of a nonprofit struggling to improve itself; here’s the story of a for-profit consultant with an Ivy League degree offering virtually free Read more

The Accidental Executive Director

Recently, we got a query from someone wanting to know the statistics on how many executive director tenures last 25 years. “Too many,” I thought. But that was a knee jerk reaction and not totally fair. Given, however, that the question fed into one of those items on my “to blog about sometime” list, I thought the stars aligned nicely.

Actually, what I wanted to blog about is a corollary to the idea of a quarter century executive directorship and that is: should you even be Read more

Searching for the Right ED

I’m frequently asked about the best way to build a board, but rarely about how to effectively find a new executive director.  With the continued warnings about retiring baby boomers and the growing need for new executive directors that the sector will be facing, I feel compelled to share some advice, build on observing, talking with and mentoring hundreds of executive directors.

So, here is my list:  short but important, based on observing, talking with and/or mentoring hundreds of nonprofit executive directors.  In  no order of Read more

Waking up the Brain Cells


Today is your day.

You can learn what is right

And be off and away!

 You have brains in your head.

Yet dumb stuff you say.

You can do yourself harm

You can steer yourself

Any direction you choose.

But you might crash and burn 

If your mouth leads your brain.


The stupid things smart people say!

 Thank you, Dr. Seuss and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

One of the things some professors do as a semester draws near its end, and they are immersed in grading papers and exams, is to share “would you believe” Read more

Might as well face it…you’re addicted

Several years back, a funder introduced me to a group of her grantees as the “bad cop” in the tag team which was about to do a presentation, a persona that continues today.

Call me what you will, but I am on a crusade to help you help yourself, your organization, your group move forward so that you can maximize the delivery of your mission.

Earlier this week, I had a 45 minute, heartbreaking conversation.  And despite that, I played the bad cop throughout.  Telling the truth, Read more

I Dare You

The rule “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is, fortunately, defunct.  At least in the military.  I think, however, it is alive and well in the culture of too many nonprofit boards:  if we don’t ask, we don’t know; if we don’t know, we can think everything is still great; if we think everything is still great, we don’t have to do anything.”  And so it goes.

This practice was the subtext running through my mind as I looked at the results of our survey checking in on Read more

Strategic Planning the Right Way

Strategic planning just may be the most important policy a board of directors, executing its governance responsibilities, may create.  And yet, far too often, it isn’t done “right”.  Why?

Let me be clear about two things.  First, a board does not create a strategic plan by itself.  And second, there is no one “right” way to do strategic planning; there is, however, a “right” cast of characters and order of appearance.

When I say a board doesn’t create a strategic plan by itself, I mean just that.  Read more

Marginalizing Board Members

I have no time for an executive director who intentionally shuts out the organization’s board.  Putting it succinctly:  you are a self-aggrandizing, stupid and, might I even go so far as to say evil person?  You know who you are.

Whenever you think it necessary, you say all of the things you think you are supposed to say:  all the different variations of “Woe is me.  My board doesn’t do anything!” You make all of the right noises and say how hard you’ve tried to get Read more