Daring to Lead* – A Survey of Nonprofit Executive Leadership

November 9, 2015 at 9:18 am Leave a comment

daring to lead

This survey* has always been of interest to me. It provides insight from 3,000+ nonprofit CEOs and Executive Directors. They reflect on their work with their board members and fundraising roles, responsibilities and expectations. While the latest survey was 2011, the first was in 2001, over the years I have been following the survey – it is sad that not much has changed. You can view the executive brief here.


The success of nonprofit executives and boards has a direct impact on fundraising which impacts program delivery. It starts at the top with leadership. Long ago Terry Axelrod talked about the three-legged fundraising stool – held up by the CEO, board and fundraiser. Without one the stool topples over. Decades later this remains true – yet the challenges nonprofit executives have around fundraising and Board work remain the same.


None of this will change without a commitment to hiring the best, setting expectations, creating accountability around priorities and providing support for creative ideas (and failure) and what it takes for an executive to “get out of the weeds.” This should apply to every nonprofit professional – not just the CEO – but the board who hires the CEO, needs to support this methodology and hold the CEO accountable.

Overview of Daring to Lead 2011:

  • While executive directors tended to give boards relatively high marks when asked about overall performance, their responses to more specific questions often contradicted that assessment—and suggest that boards are neglecting critical governance responsibilities.
  • Despite these board performance challenges, most executive directors are not spending a significant percentage of their time working with and supporting their boards. Italics mine.
  • Executive directors who spend more time working with their boards demonstrate higher satisfaction with board performance.

Side note: Well that’s not surprising…….Some are getting it right!

  • Nonprofit boards are still unprepared when their executives leave the organization. And executives don’t have succession plans in place, let alone communicate with the Board about their career plans or departures.

Side note: This has not changed much since 2001. We owe it our organizations to leave a strong legacy when we walk out the door.

*Cornelius, Marla, Rick Moyers, and Jeanne Bell, Daring to Lead 2011: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership (San Francisco, CA: CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Meyer Foundation, 2011)

Entry filed under: Nonprofit fundraising, Nonprofit Research, Resources You Can Use!. Tags: , , , .

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