January 7, 2019

A day in the life of a nonprofit CEO

Back to work after the new year break? Time for a reality check.

3 min read

Imagine a nonprofit organisation called CFSW. And before you ask, no, I don’t know what that stands for, so please imagine that as well.

You are the leader of CFSW and get to take the big decisions.

Sound unfamiliar? Then you’ll really enjoy imagining a day in these shoes.

8:00 am: Morning commute

You’re listening to an intellectual-sounding podcast.

donate banner

Who are you kidding? We all know it’s actually a call with an international donor – Lisa from LPD Foundation. Might as well keep nodding in agreement now. There’ll be little chance to do that when the team shows up to work.

You stop nodding when you hear, “The grant review is next month. How’s that impact assessment report shaping up?”

What would you say? Choose from the following options.

  • “Why? Oh God, why?”
  • “Two interns are combing the field as we speak, searching for impact. My money’s on them finding it. Actually, it’s your money… never mind.”
  • “I could send you a terabyte of data but we both know that your grant committee will ask you for the ‘takeaway’. How about I send you two pictures of smiling ‘beneficiaries’ instead? Okay, one picture without smiles, just in case.”
  • <something diplomatic>

Related article: Diary of a nonprofit intern

11:00 am: Team meeting

This was meant to start at 10:00 am but someone moved it because responding to emails was more important. Oh wait, that was you.

Satish, the Programme Director presents an update. The team members nod sagely as they look at the pie charts, graphs and tables that cover the screen. At one point you venture, “Uh, so does this mean that we’re on track to achieve our milestones?”

The team members nod sagely as they study their notebooks. All except for Satish who goes into a power pose as he looks out the window. “Hmmm,” he says. “We have milestones?”

What would you say? Choose from the following options.

  • “Why? Oh God, why?”
  • “As they search for impact, maybe the interns will find the milestones as well.”
  • “You’re fired. Just kidding. No, I’m fired.”
  • <something diplomatic>

non profit humour

Picture courtesy: Freepik

2:00 pm: Interview with candidate for Comms Director

“So you’re the CEO. Hmmm.”

You’re starting to feel a little tired of that sound but summon the strength to offer a winsome smile. Leena is interviewing for the role of Communications Director at CFSW.

You think that the comms team has done a stellar job of managing the website and social media. You’re at 33 followers on Facebook, and just 9 are friends and family. But for some reason, the board has insisted that you interview Leena.”

“We have a great work culture,” you offer.

“Hmmm, that’s nice. What would my growth path look like?”

What would you say? Choose from the following options.

  • “Why? Oh God, why?”
  • “You’ll probably accumulate some good karma. But don’t ask us to look for it. The interns are busy.”
  • “The last three people we hired for this role all asked the same question.”
  • “We’ll figure it out”, followed by a nervous giggle.
  • <something diplomatic>

Related article: How to ace your nonprofit job interview

4:00 pm: Community work

You visit one of the communities where CFSW has a long-running programme. The sight of familiar faces causes your mood to brighten instantly. You observe the programme team going about its work and pass on advice from your many years of working with this and other communities.

You think about your own journey, about the many times that you were asked, “Why do this work?”

It was for this very reason, to be close to real people and their real needs.

At 4:15 pm your phone rings. The auditor has questions about CFSW’s income tax returns from three years ago. Can you return to the office immediately?

7:00 pm: Evening commute

You’re listening to an intellectual-sounding podcast. (Give up on that already.) It’s actually a call with Hasan, investment banker and board member.

“The board thinks you’re doing a great job,” says Hasan. “However, we would like the team to be more strategic. Can you make that happen?”

What would you say? Choose from the following options.

  • “Of course. Just let me know how many slides you need. The Programme Director is a master of PPT.”
  • “So we go to Goa for a strategy retreat?”
  • “We’ll figure it out”, followed by a nervous giggle.
  • <something diplomatic>

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Arjav Chakravarti-Image
Arjav Chakravarti

Arjav Chakravarti is a leadership coach and the founder of Svarya. In the past, Arjav has held a variety of leadership roles across sectors such as consulting, nonprofit management, technology, and research.