Nonprofit Chief Executives Should Have Title: President/CEO, Updated and Expanded

Nonprofit Chief Executives Should Have Title: President/CEO, Updated and Expanded
This post, over several years, has developed a record of continued viewing interest. Rarely a day passes in which the data doesn’t include one or two views, or occasionally a day in which the viewer’s data rise to five. For example, when previously updated in 2014 there were 274 post views, during 2015 there were 57 views and in the first three months of 2016 there were 27 views, indicting that the number may pass that of 2015. Perhaps the controversial nature of topic causes the longevity of interest

When nonprofit organizations reach a budget level of over $1 million and have about 10 staff members it is time to offer the chief operating officer the title of PRESIDENT/CEO. In addition, the title of the senior board volunteer should become CHAIRPERSON OF THE BOARD, and the title of EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR needs to be eliminated. Experience has shown that with a reasonably talented PRESIDENT/CEO at the helm, he/she can provide the following benefits:

*Build a trust culture between board, management and staff.
*Solve many operational problems that have previously been referred to the board.
*Operate with fewer standing board committees.
*Form a well-structured fund-raising partnership with board members.
*Develop an entrepreneurial theme internally
*Improve operational communications.
*Assist the board chair in conducting meetings in a more effective manner.
*Make certain board members have meaningful involvement in the affairs of the organization.
*Develop more cost effective programs and processes.
*Allow the board to focus on its major responsibilities, development of policies and strategies.

Controversy still surrounds this proposal, although the benefits of providing the title for appropriate chief executives remain clear, for several reasons. * In some instances, an ED is comfortable with the lower levels of responsibilities h/she currently has and doesn’t want the full operational responsibilities designated by the title. In other instances, the habit or culture of the board prevents tho utilization of the title. Finally, although some state laws restrict the use of the title by a full time paid managers to executive director, the issue becomes further clouded when the board also wants to make any management or staff member a voting member of the board. Positive change can be difficult!
Source: Policy vs. Paper Clips – Third Edition (2011) :

* For additional arguments, see:


  1. Eugene: I could not agree with you more – the irony is that invariably, when one pulls out the dusty copy of the ByLaws, and even the top leader’s job description, one discovers that the “Executive Director” is defined as being the “Chief Executive Officer” of the organization. The only question is why the title hasn’t already been changed! It is even less comprehensible when organizations have an E.D., and then a CFO, CDO, CPO and COO as direct reports. I have insisted on negotiating this title change when joining a new organization – the title carries more weight when the CEO is representing the organization with prospective donors, and in other settings as well. One additional benefit, frankly, is that if the direct reports do not have titles such as COO, CFO, CPO or CDO – those titles present an opportunity for the CEO to reward top performers with the “beefier” and “more prestigious” titles. On occasion, I’ve had Board “Presidents” ask what their title would then be – the answer is obvious, and simple, as you suggest – “Chair of the Board,” “Vice Chair”, etc. are commonplace and acceptable. It is not difficult to amend and restate the ByLaws to reflect those title changes – two sentences should suffice, in order to adhere to the “letter of the law”, so to speak. Thanks for pointing out what should be obvious, but still is not.


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