7 New Nonprofit CEO Success Secrets

7 New Nonprofit CEO Success SecretsStart Strong: Lessons from New Executives


I recently contacted 60 new nonprofit CEOs this spring to learn what surprised them in their first months in their new positions.


If you’re a new executive, seeking a position, or have been at the job for years, I bet you’re curious about what they discovered and if you can benefit from their wisdom.


Read on. You won’t be disappointed. Ahead you’ll find insights to apply to your work to be more efficient and effective. I’ve organized their perceptions into seven secret tactics with an explanation and an example.


#1. New Nonprofit CEO Advice: Set Realistic Expectations


Expect constant day-to-day decision-making.


You’ll encounter a slew of unknowns; interviews never cover everything.


Embrace the work it takes. You’re not doing it wrong if it’s you’re not done by five.


Being a new CEO is like raising a child—the first year is tough. In the second year, you get into the flow.


If possible, take a vacation before you start.


Congratulations. Your board hired you to do great things. “Take care to remember your limits,” your peers advise. When you arrive at the new position, you’ll probably find a lengthy task list waiting. One CEO encountered a collection of delayed facilities projects needing immediate care. A second stepped into a grant’s deliverable scramble.


As a new CEO, you’re in danger of setting unrealistic expectations.


To go fast soon, slow down now. Let me translate this advice into a measurable specific: Reduce your initial goals by 50 percent to allow for back-burner issues.


For the rest of the insights, download the study report here.
From this study, the most successful new nonprofit CEOs select positions where they have polished skills that match the nonprofit’s greatest need and allow the candidate to grow.  Use these interview questions to uncover hidden challenges and once you find the position, ask for these items to jumpstart your transition.
Are You Ready to Be a Nonprofit CEO? Find out. Listen to this podcast.

Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis Consulting guides executive directors and CEOs to generate the resources, boards, and support they need to make remarkable progress on their missions. As the award-winning thought-leader, advisor, and founding principal of Karen Eber Davis Consulting, Karen helps nonprofit leaders get answers, generate revenue, and grow their mission. Davis is known for her innovation and practicality based on her work with or visits to over 1,000 nonprofit organizations and her experience leading board and team events. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.