Following are 12 attributes to look for in a great nonprofit executive director/CEO. No one has all of these traits but they are something to aspire to as we admire the brave hardy souls who lead our nonprofits.

  1. Self Starter. Great executive directors are goal driven and possess a high degree of motivation and energy. They are “doers.” They have a record of productivity.
  2. Passion for the Organization’s Mission. They are “driven” by the importance of the organization’s mission.
  3. Ability to Accept and Motivate Others. They have the ability to attract and inspire others, including volunteer board members and staff. They are open to and accept many different types of people.
  4. They are “Servant Leaders”. They are more concerned about what they can “give” to others rather than what they are going to “get” from the organization.
  5. Deals Well with Conflict. They can handle adversity with grace. They do not take criticism personally. They keep a sense of perspective.
  6. Think Strategically, but Implement Tactically. They see the big picture but are able to implement plans effectively in “bite-size morsels” to move the organization forward.
  7. Financial Acumen.  They understand finances. They know how to budget. They recognize both financial opportunities and threats.
  8. Fundraising Skills. They have knowledge and experience in fundraising techniques, including major gift fundraising.
  9. Ability to listen.  They know how to actively receive input and listen to other viewpoints. They collaborate with others.
  10. Sound Judgment. They have the ability to sift through alternatives, deliberate, and then arrive at a sound decision.
  11. Persistence. They do not let obstacles stand in their way and can persevere through difficult times for the organization.
  12. Stamina. They have physical and emotional stamina. They are able to tolerate long days. They can carry on a full day of back-to-back meetings and still function at an acceptable level.