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International Honor Society in Social Sciences
The mission of Pi Gamma Mu is to encourage and promote excellence in the social sciences and to uphold the ideals of scholarship and service.

VIEW FROM THE PODIUM

The Significant Contribution of the Executive Director

On February 3, 2014, Dr. Suzanne Rupp became Pi Gamma Mu's fourth executive director.  Based on her participation in the search and interview process conducted by the international Board of Trustees and its Personnel Committee and her and my discussions since she assumed the executive-director position, I am already aware that Dr. Rupp is insightful, industrious, and deeply committed to the well-being of all of Pi Gamma Mu's constituencies.  As part of the search and interview process, Dr. Rupp wrote an essay about the responsibilities of an executive director.

This month, I am turning my column over to Dr. Rupp, so that she can share her thoughts in that essay with all of you.  She has a very clear and sophisticated understanding of how an organization's success is dependent on the attitude and conduct of its executive director.  As you read her essay, I believe that you will come to understand why the members of the board became so impressed with her, why we are excited that she has occupied this important leadership position in our honor society, and why I am so confident that Pi Gamma Mu can look forward to a genuinely bright future.

Barry D. Friedman
International President


THE NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION AND THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

By Suzanne Rupp, Psy.D.
Pi Gamma Mu Executive Director

Roles of the Executive Director

By definition, nonprofit organizations exist to provide value to the groups of people they serve rather than to be successful in terms of obtaining financial wealth.  Despite this distinction from for-profit organizations, the leadership of both types of organizations faces similar problems such as economic difficulties and employee crises.  In order to be successful, nonprofit leadership, particularly the executive director, must be talented in filling multiple unique roles including leadership, management, and support.  In addition, nonprofit managers must be equipped with a high level of business skill, professionalism, and integrity in order to ensure the success of the organization.  Although the role of the nonprofit manager or executive director is quite complex, it can be broken down into three basic categories: leading, managing, and supporting (Carlson and Donohoe, 2003).  Knowing when to activate each of these roles allows the executive director to maintain and grow the organization.

The Executive Director as a Leader

The principal function of the executive director of a nonprofit organization is to serve as the primary caretaker of the group's mission.  He or she is entrusted by the board of directors or board of trustees to ensure the success of the organization.  This requires very strong leadership skills.  While management and support skills are necessary to provide day-to-day functionality within an organization, the leadership role provides the vision and inspiration that are critical for success.

True leaders provide the heart of an organization, and by nature heart is the motivating factor behind nonprofits.  Effective leaders have a genuine passion for upholding the vision of the organizations for which they work.  That passion provides the vision, inspiration, and desire necessary to develop a strong strategy for success.  Leadership is not defined by the number of subordinates or direct reports a manager has or the salary he or she is paid.  Leadership is a state of mind and way of being that inspire others to achieve more.  It is about attitudes and actions rather than job titles.  The attitude of the leader, whether positive or negative, has an effect on those with whom he or she works.  Leaders must behave with a high level of dedication, integrity, honesty, enthusiasm, and a desire to see others succeed.  Effective leaders motivate staff members and the membership to do well by encouraging them and by exhibiting their own passion for success and the success of the organization. 

The Executive Director as a Manager

While leaders work from the heart, managers work from the head.  Although the success of any nonprofit organization requires a passionate and inspirational leader, strong management skills are essential for any executive director.  The managerial role includes supervising staff members, managing budgets, strategic business planning, and crisis management, among many other duties.  Executive directors also wear the manager hat in fulfilling their duty to ensure that the nonprofit organization is complying with state laws, fundraising regulations, and tax-exempt status requirements.  These issues are highly technical, and an effective executive director must have excellent managerial skills in order to handle such complex matters effectively (Idealist.org, n.d.).

Another important part of the managerial role of the executive director is relationship management.  This includes managing not only relationships with potential donors or initiates, but also relationships within the organization itself.  An effective manager holds his or her direct reports accountable for meeting their goals while encouraging their professional growth and job satisfaction.  Accountability helps maintain the credibility of a nonprofit organization.  This extends not only to staff members but also to the board of trustees and to the executive director himself or herself (Andringa and Engstrom, 2007).  Nonprofit managers must keep in mind that not only are they responsible for holding others accountable, but that they are also held accountable to the board.  This type of relationship among the nonprofit organization leadership team members provides a level of checks and balances that is healthy for any organization. 

The Executive Director as a Supporter

Good nonprofit managers know when to step back and let others take the lead.  They support the talents of others within the organization.  When board members, staff members, volunteers, and initiates have skills or are interested in developing skills that will benefit the nonprofit organization, it is the job of the executive director to allow those skills to blossom.  Although it can be difficult for some in supervisory roles to hand over certain responsibilities to others, facilitating others to take on leadership tasks as appropriate empowers them and the organization.  The strengths of superiors, subordinates, volunteers, and others should be nurtured.  Personal growth is often an integral part of the mission of a nonprofit organization that can and should be directly supported by the executive director.  An effective nonprofit manager understands that empowering others to take on leadership tasks does not diminish his or her own leadership position.  Identifying and supporting the unique talents of one's team makes the team stronger. 

The Importance of Ethics

Nonprofit managers are entrusted by the communities they serve to uphold the highest level of ethical standards.  The tax-exempt status of nonprofit organizations carries with it a certain social responsibility that must be upheld by the executive director.  This economic benefit is provided to nonprofit organizations in exchange for fulfilling a charitable mission.  The public trust must be upheld by the nonprofit organization at all times.  It is the civic duty of the leadership team to ensure that assets and resources are not being wasted or misused.
 
When resources are misused, the dignity and morale of the organization are damaged.  In addition, the reputation of the organization and of nonprofits in general is placed at risk.  Time and energy have to be spent handling and correcting the misdeed(s) which detracts from the focus on the nonprofit organization's mission.  Unethical behavior by any member of a nonprofit organization can damage its reputation, but when a top-level manager is at fault it is especially harmful.  The executive director should be a role model for the entire organization and must uphold the highest of ethical standards.

Nonprofit organizations are special institutions that work for the benefit of society rather than for private financial gains or political power.  Although nonprofit organizations have a variety of missions, they are all formed to benefit society in some tangible way.  It is the duty of management and leadership to handle complex organizational matters with the highest level of integrity and professionalism. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Andringa, Robert C., & Engstrom, Theodore W. (2007). The nonprofit board answer book: A practical guide for board members and chief executives (2nd ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Carlson, Mim, & Donohoe, Margaret.  (2003). The executive director's survival guide: Thriving as a nonprofit leader (1st ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Idealist.org. (n.d.). Things a U. S.-based nonprofit must (and must not) do. Idealist.org. Retrieved September 24, 2013, from http://www.idealist.org/info/Nonprofits/Mgmt4.

 

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Mailing address: Pi Gamma Mu, 1001 Millington St., Suite B, Winfield, KS 67156.

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