1. Understand what’s expected from top level staff at nonprofits.
Remember when you were a camp counselor and you wondered what the heck the Executive Director or CEO did all day? You didn’t really know what their actual job was or their work looked like. We’ve all been there. But before you dream of moving up, understanding some of the roles and responsibilities of nonprofit executive leadership, its best to begin filling that toolbox with knowledge and skills required. Many camp directors manage a budget, but when it comes to 990s and audits and financial statements from CPAs, its new territory, especially to directors who work at larger nonprofits.
2. Find a place at your nonprofit’s table.
Want to make actual change at your agency? Want to influence that budget? In order to really do that, you need to understand the financial picture of the entire organization. You need to be aware of the governing rules required for a 501(c)3. Knowing what’s happening around you will allow you to come to the table with solid ideas on how to make the changes you are striving for. Understanding the rules and procedures and status of an agency will give you the advantage to build on that knowledge and come to that table with a clear vision forward. CEOs and Executive Directors want new ideas, but they have to think of the bigger picture. Staff that come forward with a vision that positively impacts the entire picture are more likely to be invited back to the table than a staff member focused on their little piece.
3. Ace that interview.
Looking to advance in your career? A lot of learning happens on the job, but going into an interview knowing more about topics such as public policy, governance, fiscal management, and culture gives you an advantage over someone with less experience. This is especially true if you are going for your first job in executive level management. Going into an interview knowing the terminology, rules, and general operational knowledge will show not only that you are ready for this step, but also that you went out to learn these topics
4. Watch your camp grow.
Some folks never want to be the CEO and that is great! We need smart and capable people at all levels of the organization. As a previous mentor told me when I was 18 - everything only works when everyone is involved, therefore no one is more important than the other. The topics in the Moving Up Series apply to anyone who works with nonprofits because gaining knowledge translates to our everyday work lives - no matter our position. Understanding the larger financial situation will help you make better decisions and plan more effectively for your camp. Reflecting on how public policy is vital to the way you are able to run camp can help guide you to ensuring that policy created benefits camps.
5. Set your own table.
Sometimes we talk as if there is one table when in reality there are many, many tables. Table hopping is somewhat of a sport. Once, when I was having difficulty finding my place at a table, a mentor said to me “Colette, if they won't invite you to their table, set your own. Invite others.” It’s probably in my “top advice I’ve ever received” category. It was wise and simple and empowering. Education and knowledge strengthens your place at other folk’s table but it also helps you build your own. These sessions have been created to help you build your guest list for your own table through networking and skill development.
Colette Marquardt, Executive Director, ACA Illinois
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