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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?


Comments

Sharon said…
Hi Anne! I enjoyed your Blog post! I have thought of a couple more things to add to the list. These come through my experiences in the volunteer positions that I have held over the past several years. 1) Basic computer skills and a willingness to learn new skills in order to stay current; 2) Desire and willingness to be a member in good standing of similar organizations within the community, county, state, and region, as well as museum related professional organizations and attend their conferences and workshops.
Thanks for these additional thoughts, Sharon. I agree that directors must be technologically forward-leaning. I remember one director telling me that he felt pencils, paper and old-fashioned catalog cards were the best and most reliable means of recording information! Well, I don't know about that....I do know that the museum he led was pretty much stuck in a rut of older ideas and ways of getting work done.
MVD said…
Flexibility and a sense of humor!
What would we do without humor in the workplace? It's a must!
Jon Hill said…
I think this is a good skill set for a director. I too agree, that a description of many hats is more in line with a younger organization, but I think it helps to have the experience with those hats to more fully understand the organization. I think a good addition to the list may be a good business acumen. I believe a director should ensure their institution operates in a fiscally sound manner,and knows the role that cultural institutions play in the community. I have seen several institutions which have an outflow of cash that far outspends their inflow. These institutions rely heavily on endowments that can not support their expenditures. Finally, I think being all things to all people is another great trait. A director is a counselor, friend, mother, disciplinarian, employee and advocate for their institution all at once. She has volunteers, staff, guests, community partners and board members who demand her time and need her attention. But, there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing ones mission being a success!

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