How to be an Effective Nonprofit CEO

I had the recent pleasure of sitting down with Freddy Mata, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Pharr to discuss how to be an effective nonprofit CEO. Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom he shared.

1. What is your number 1 challenge as a CEO of a nonprofit organization?

The biggest challenge is operating not as a nonprofit. There is an illusion that nonprofit and for-profit are operated differently. That is not the case. It is the job of the CEO in both operations to know everything. It is hard to know everything happening in your organization. A way to address this is to know yourself and build a team that compliments your weaknesses.

2. How have you built relationships in the course of your work? Relationships take time to build. The great thing about running a nonprofit is people have buy into your mission. So, anyone that gets involved with your organization knows why they are getting involved. As a nonprofit, you are not selling a physical product, but you are selling a service. People naturally want to give back to their community, but they may not know how. Some donors have money or some donors have time. The nonprofit role is to provide the donor what they need in that relationship. If they have money share a program that they can fund. If they have time, share volunteer opportunities with them.

3. What advice would you give a new CEO of an organization?

In the first weeks or months, it is ok to tell yourself you don’t know what you are doing. It’s ok you are learning. What you can do is research and learn. A good approach is to talk to all employees that have been with the organization. Get input from everyone including the janitor. Once you have done your homework then you can plan where you want to be. What do I want to continue? What do I want to stop? This information should be shared with the staff and board of directors then together a 3–5 year strategic plan is developed.

4. What is your best tip for working with a Board of Directors?

Be open in your thinking. Board members are a group of unpaid volunteers who give of their time and money. It is not the CEOs organization. Your job as the CEO is to guide based on what the Board of Directors has approved. It’s ok to respectfully disagree during board meetings but whatever is decided it is your job to implement.

5. How do you deal with work-life balance?

It has been difficult to balance work and life. I come in and do quality work and not focus on quantity. When its time to go home I force myself to stop work. I tell myself the work will be here, and I need to leave. On the other hand, if a deadline is due you stay until it is done. I have learned to not procrastinate and plan the work. If I am not emotionally or physically healthy then my organization will suffer. Take a mental break, if needed.

6. How do you deal with the responsibility of fundraising?

We match funding with our programs and are continuously applying for grants. We track every expense so we can be as transparent as possible to everybody.

7. In your opinion, what makes a great nonprofit CEO?

Taking care of 100% of your staff makes a great CEO. Every role is important. As CEO you must be mentally available to everyone. You are the leader and you have to say thank you, great job and know what is going on in your employee’s life. If you are a staff of one…you are not that great! That means CEO is just a title. You wear many hats and you can’t take yourself so seriously. Some days you may have to clean a toilet. I would say if you are a staff of one build a network of CEO friends so you can have a circle of people to talk to. Join groups such as Rotary so you can have a path to talk to someone.

8. So, what do you do when you are having a bad day?

I interact with my clients. Immerse yourself in the mission. It will remind you why you do what you do.

I hope this helps. Your feedback is appreciated. Leave a comment below. Sharing is caring.

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