Executive Director

Are you curious about how your humanities background applies to nonprofit senior leadership?

Click on any of the topics in the menu below to learn more about the typical responsibilities of an Executive Director, necessary skills, general salary information, and other resources.

 (Not interested in nonprofit leadership? Check out the Career Resources page to browse other interesting job titles and info!)

What is an "Executive Director" (the short version)?

An executive director is the senior operating officer or manager at an organization or coordination. This position is most typically found in nonprofit organizations.

What are the responsibilities of an Executive Director?

This position encompasses a variety of skill sets and responsibilities. One major responsibility is designing and implementing strategic plans for the organization that are aligned with the mission and informed by the board of directors. In addition to high-level strategic planning and vision, the executive director is also entrusted to manage the daily operations of the organization by the board. This can include managing staff and committees. While each organization will vary in their expectations for this senior role, other responsibilities often include: serving as the public face of the organization, spearheading fundraising campaigns, high-level planning of all events/programming, financial tasks (ex. Payroll and bookkeeping tasks), and taking the lead on the organizational culture.

What are the necessary skills?

The following list will vary by organization and is not comprehensive, but these are common skills required to serve as an Executive Director:

  • Leadership experience
  • Management experience
  • Basic knowledge of HR-related tasks (hiring, training, onboarding, scheduling)
  • Basic financial knowledge needed to pay invoices, receive payments, record all transactions in the financial records, and process payroll.
  • Background in development/fundraising.
  • Networking skills to support development efforts.
  • Some knowledge or experience in the organization’s mission.
  • Experience planning events.
  • Membership outreach experience.
  • Strategic planning skills.
What level of experience is required? What are the degree requirements?

This is a senior position that will typically require at least 2 years of experience as a minimum with a college degree (often a master’s degree, but not always required). Many organizations will require 5-10+ years of experience.

What is the average salary of an Executive Director?

The salary for an Executive Director will vary widely depending on the size of the organization, the region, and other factors. According to Glassdoor.com, the national average is $130,000/year with range of $66,000 – $256,000/year.


If you are considering applying for a position with a nonprofit organization, there is a great deal of information available that you can use to learn more about their mission, committees, programming, memberships, donations, and (to some degree) budget/salaries. Nonprofit organizations are required to file a Form 990 each year with the IRS. These are publicly available and can be found in a few possible locations online.

To begin your search, check out the Charities and Nonprofits page on the IRS site. To find review an organization’s Form 990, look up the organization in the “Tax Exempt Organization Page“which allows you to search by name and other information. You will see “Form 990” as an option under the search results. This form contains a wealthy of useful information.

Another option is to use a database like GuideStar which has slightly better keyword search functionality. This will let you see the name of the executive officer, general contact info, and download the most recent Form 990 on record.