Friday, July 4, 2014

The Nonprofit Director's Skill Set: One Group's Opinion

THIS SUMMER I'M LEADING AN ONLINE COURSE in museum administration -- a new venture offered by the American Association for State and Local History.  The small band of participants -- most not museum administrators, by the way -- are being treated to the basics of nonprofit organization spanning how museums are founded to issues of leadership.  

The most recent lesson explored the complex and sometimes competing roles of the museum director.  A director has allegiances to both the governing board and the staff requiring continual alignment of priorities and mitigation of distances between the two.  A director also has allegiance to her vision for organizational health, sustainability and excellence.

Add to that the fact that as an organization develops, its leadership needs will change.  What worked for the start-up may be too informal and inefficient for a more mature organization.  The director's role, therefore, is not only played out vertically and horizontally, it's also played out over time.

One of the assignments for the week was to review several job announcements for directors to deduce where the organization might be in its development, the irons it had in the fire, and the skills it was looking for in the next director.  All three pieces ought to link together.

One participant noted that an announcement stated several times that the director would need to wear many hats -- this caused her to wonder if the museum had experienced some prior misunderstanding about staff responsibilities.  I figured it was a really small institution where a new director would be faced with having to prioritize focus and time right from the get-go.

In other cases, it was much clearer to deduce what an institution was looking for in its next director -- building audience, expanding the museum's role as an educational resource, taking on a bricks and mortar expansion.

When asked what the three most important qualifications they would look for in a director, the class responded with a mixture of hard (business knowledge, fundraising) and soft skills (communication, problem-solving).  In the final analysis, the class gravitated toward:

1.  a track record of leadership and managerial experience
2.  fundraising
3.  vision, commitment to mission, and passion for/understanding of the subject matter

What do you think belongs on that list?