Acquiring Edit Lock
is currently editing this page.

Education, professional development and personal growth are key to great nonprofit leaders

Today there are thousands of nonprofit executive directors who are on some path toward retirement in the U.S. The transition of an executive director is among the most stressful events in the life of a nonprofit organization. Planning for continuity, succession planning and the recruitment and selection of the executive director truly asks the best from all, for all who are part of the organization. It is a time that the role of the boards of directors is especially important in providing continuity.

We need professionals who have an interest in our sector, to hear the call to serve as an executive director, and answer that call with being prepared to serve. An important question in this quest is: What will it take for me to be highly effective as an executive director? A great place to gain great input about the work of executive directors is from executive directors themselves.

Having that connection with an executive director can be among the most powerful ways to begin learning about the scope of education, kinds of skills, the depth of experience and the wherewithal needed to lead the enterprise.

We all bring areas of expertise that we rely upon, and yet the accountabilities for the role of executive director still require obtaining the education that is right for each of us. As your education in the administration of a nonprofit organization is of great importance, here are some options to consider:

Options in formal education

Today’s complex nonprofit environment requires skills and expertise for executive directors. A Masters degree in nonprofit administration can be invaluable in deepening foundational competencies that can prepare the professional toward executive leadership of a nonprofit enterprise.

There are nationally many excellent graduate programs that offer an exceptional learning experience in becoming equipped with the necessary skills, expertise and perspectives for leadership in the nonprofit sector. Here are two outstanding master degree programs that bring together theory, experiential learning, applied knowledge and critical thinking.

Executive leadership development

If you think about it, executive leadership in private corporations, nonprofit institutions or governments, is about leading people. Learning about self-awareness when leading people is an important part of really good executive development programs. I am a strong believer that for all aspiring professionals seeking to become an executive leader of a nonprofit enterprise, executive development programs are necessary to help the emerging leader gain self-awareness, executive presence and hone their gifts, talents and interpersonal acumen in all that leadership requires.

An executive development program, beyond the graduate degree, such as the executive development program at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, helps the executive to understand style of leadership and the types of emotional intelligence in advancing a productive work environment. The Carlson School of Management’s Executive Development Program allowed me to grow in ways that propelled me farther in the art and science of executive leadership, and gave me key leadership skills I draw upon every day.

I believe that the next big opportunity is to further develop executive development programs that enable nonprofit executives to advance their ability to lead the nonprofit sector. In doing so we continue to raise the nonprofit sector to do good for the world in even greater and more productive ways for the betterment of humanity, community and society.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.




Executive thought leader and global civil rights advocate