According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, as of July 2013 there are more than 1.4 million nonprofits in the U.S. Many of these organizations operate community programs – from health to education and social policy to crisis services. What they all have in common is a director who develops and oversees activities. To serve as a director, you should have strong background knowledge in your field, the ability to work with diverse groups on complex issues and solid organizational, communication and managerial skills.
A nonprofit community program director is both a short- and long-term planner. Her goal during the program’s early phase is to identify its most critical needs. She then puts resources and systems in place to respond to those needs. Her start-up activities include preparing work plans, policies, procedures and budgets. She may also develop simple logs or more complex information systems to monitor activities. For the longer term, the director identifies adjustments that must be made to sustain, or build on, program successes. She may work with other nonprofit staff to develop strategic milestones and time lines to reach them. Possibilities include: “Secure 10 community partners by the start of year three” or “Increase the program’s service population by 15 percent annually.”
Administration focuses on managing core programming; it is the heart of the director’s responsibilities. For example, the director of a program to prevent adolescent substance abuse in the city’s most challenged neighborhood conducts a needs assessment with community-based organizations, high schools, health care providers, advocacy groups and municipal agencies. She then recruits a fleet of 20 residents to provide outreach, ensuring they pass background checks. Next, she trains these residents in teen substance abuse prevention and community-building. For the remainder of the program, the director supervises the team’s work and that of an administrative assistant. This includes coordinating schedules, managing meetings and developing outreach materials, among other activities.
The director of a nonprofit community program recognizes that she cannot positively impact the area by working in a silo. Cultivating partnerships with local groups and volunteers is an important part of her efforts. Continuing the above example, the director works at a high level to organize a community action group that collectively addresses policies that impact substance abuse by teens. She spearheads monthly coalition meetings, preparing an agenda that supports collective goal-setting and updates members on progress. Her relationship-building extends to fundraising. For instance, she might organize community partners to host an annual holiday bazaar; the proceeds are donated to local teen treatment programs.
The program director is also accountable for reporting, usually to internal parties such as the head of her department or the executive director. Alternatively, reports can be made to funders, partners or other external parties. The director uses the monitoring tools she put in place during program planning. She balances tracked data with her own observations to compose reports that are objective while providing sufficient context. Reports should share progress in direct response to the program’s original goals and objectives. The director should also speak to any emerging challenges and all steps to resolve them.
- National Center for Charitable Statistics: Quick Facts about Nonprofits
- Ohio Literacy Resource Center: Overview of Non-Profit Program Planning
- Experience, Inc.: Nonprofit Career Profile - Program Management
- Nonprofit Leadership Alliance: The Skills the Nonprofit Sector Requires of its Managers and Leaders
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