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    • I never thought ANY of these things! Do new ED’s really think that? That kinda makes me think they aren’t experienced enough to have the job if they really believed that when they started….

      • Many founder EDs have tons of optimism but not a lot of management capacity on the backend which can lead to tons of stress. I’m so glad to hear this wasn’t your experience.

  1. A person holding those misconceptions probably hasn’t spent much time as a nonprofit volunteer. I don’t think I’m going too far in saying that volunteering on the administrative end–heading a fund-raising project, working on prospect research, helping write a grant, serving on planning committee–is essential for anyone planning to become an ED. Getting to know others is good networking but getting to know the job first-hand is equally important.

    • I can certainly relate to the four points, although I didn’t really think about them much at the time. I am a VOLUNTEER director – first it was at a state level, then at national. I never in my life thought I would be in such a position but found myself taking on the challenge because… well, because I HAD to, really. It is a calling for me, and I’ve never regretted my decision, but it has been a very steep learning curve.

      I’m coming up on two years as national ED and have definitely struggled with some near-burnout. I would LOVE to connect to a few folks who have been in similar situations (volunteering full-time, and working full-time, squeezing in family time) trying to do a good job with little support and experience. I could use an advisory team, as Natasha recommends.

      Perhaps a fifth point might be something like “It’s very lonely at the top.” I find it difficult to have friends within the organization, because I am the authority figure and even those I’m closest to, who understand that I’m just a volunteer like they are, will still have an “agenda” a lot of times, or I still have to be careful how I express myself when I feel like venting. Basically, I can’t. Wow – so much to learn!

      • I am with you Brenda. I am a full time volunteer Executive Director and a part time worker and student. Most of the time I enjoy my job as E.D it is very rewarding but full of challenges as well. I find my self doing a lot of everything, wearing different hats because we do not have paid staff and have to rely in a few group of volunteers who are already doing a lot of work with the CEO. The CEO and I each put in more than 50 hours a week, but there’s always so much to do. The only two Board members that we have live out of state. I want to go out and network to get more volunteers and new members for the Board of Directors who are locally but finding the time is a very difficult task.

  2. Thanks for this article. I never wanted to be an Executive Director and then somehow I became the interim and then just the ED. I lasted 4 heartbreaking years. This article explained everything I went through and it’s nice to know it just wasn’t me. I have been suffering from ED PSTD. It’s been 2 1/2 years since I was an ED. 13 years in non profit total and now I am s afraid to take another leadership role.

    • Hi Tracy, you’d be surprised how often I hear stories like that. I love your expression PSTD, that’s exactly how it feels. What was your biggest issue as ED?

  3. Pingback: Four Tough Truths About What It’s Like To Be An Executive Director | Next Level Nonprofits

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