The # 1 Habit of Successful Executive Directors

The # 1 Habit of Successful Executive Directors

What do you do when you’re driving up to a yellow light? Hit the gas to beat the red or accept the stop as imminent and wait your turn? How about when you have two items at the grocery store? Do you frantically look for the shortest line, fume that the express checkout has 9 people ahead of you and remain annoyed while you wait? Have you ever texted someone and stared at your phone for the next 20 minutes waiting for a reply? This is life and it shows up everywhere.

Impatience may spike your blood pressure, it may save you a few minutes and it may get you there first – but it robs you of a lot. It robs you of missed opportunities. It snatches the big wins and shines a light on your bully side. The antidote is patience.

In the context of a non-profit, patience is the daily vitamin of Executive Directors. Here’s why it’s vital to your survival. The first hour of your day goes like this…

The receptionist or admin is not in today. The computer network is down. There are 14 voicemails awaiting an answer. UPS is at the door needing payment. Mary turns the corner looking for a report she gave you last week. A donor is waiting in the lobby for her receipt from last year. The Board Chair is due in any minute and there’s no coffee. This is a pretty normal start to the day for most Executive Directors, especially in small shops. Patience is what gets you through.

You know the immediate, day-to-day things that must get managed, must get resolved and must get shared. They bump into the critical things that must be your focus and get your attention. Unlike a yellow light or an express checkout, when you lead a non-profit, you hold the card of patience. And it’s a long game.

At any point and for any reason, you will face the call to abandon a project or a fundraising strategy that “didn’t work”. I ask you – did you give it time? Or did you try once and throw in the towel? Did you listen to the voices of critics who said it wouldn’t work? Whatever got to you, you likely stepped away too soon. That’s where patience shows up.

You see other organizations that have long-running, sustaining fundraising methods. You wonder – how do they do that? How can something continue after all these years when “new” and different” are the magnets for so many people? The things that last, the things that leave the greatest legacy are embedded with patience.

The non-profit sector is ablaze with staff turnover, board member exits, short-term funding, abysmal donor retention and declining volunteer engagement. Those are facts. But there are also non-profits that don’t have any of that. Where Executive Directors are retained, Boards have full complements and always with quorum, staff have a career path, funding is steady, donors attach and volunteers feel like it’s their organization. How did they do it? Patience. It starts at the top. And it starts with YOU.

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