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So You Want to Be a… Nonprofit Executive Director   

 Executive directors of nonprofits oversee the work being carried out by the various departments within their organizations

What will I be doing all day?

Executive directors of nonprofits oversee the work being carried out by the various departments within their organizations. Beyond managing administration activities, they are also in charge of long-term planning. This includes:

  1. Overseeing operations: This includes creating policy, hiring and training employees, developing programs, setting organizational goals, and developing long-term strategy. Executive directors are also responsible for communicating with the organization’s board of directors.
  2. Financial management: This includes creating a budget and ensuring it’s adhered to. They’re also in charge of fundraising and creating relationships with donors.
  3. Public relations: As the public face of the organization, executive directors are in charge of marketing efforts and are often expected to organize and attend publicity events, communicate with the media, and direct the organization’s marketing efforts.
  4. Compliance: Executive directors are responsible for ensuring that the organization is compliant with all relevant laws and regulations.
What kind of career options do I have?

An executive director can serve in a variety of nonprofit organizations, such as schools, tzedakah organizations, political organizations, public clinics or hospitals, professional associations, museums, and many more.

What kind of training do I need?

Many organizations require their executive directors to hold a master’s degree or doctorate in public administration, business administration, or a similarly relevant field. Some executive directors may also take coursework in fields specific to their organization — for example, health care administration or educational administration. Many executive directors also find it helpful to take leadership training programs to develop their management skills.

Do I have the personality for it?

A good executive director has excellent leadership skills, confidence, and solid people skills. He’s also a good communicator and listener, compassionate, organized, good at problem-solving, flexible, can see the big picture, and knows how to both manage and delegate to employees.

What can I expect to make?

Compensation varies based on experience as well as on the size and locale of the organization.

Salaries at small to midsize organizations tend to start at $60,000–$70,000, and go up to $150,000–$200,000.

The national average salary is about $80,000.


Kew Gardens Hills, N.Y.
Executive Director, PUAH, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Graduated from: B.A. from NYU and The New School for Social Research
Years in Field: 19
My Typical Day at Work

My job is to oversee all of our departments, from financial to marketing to fundraising to educational events, to ensure PUAH’s optimal functioning.

On a typical day, I’ll plan an upcoming event, determining what we need to do both from the educational perspective and from a marketing perspective. This involves meeting with our rabbinic counselors to discuss which ongoing issues people most commonly ask them about, and to pinpoint which issues we feel the community as a whole is lacking awareness about — for example, information about PCOS and its effect on fertility. Once we identify an educational need, we’ll conduct brainstorming sessions on how best to get the message out to the community. Since we deal with sensitive information, we can’t use typical advertising, and our publicity requires a finely tuned effort involving our whole team.

I’ll also spend time reviewing our records and meeting with staff members to discuss what we need to grow further — what new programs, what new training and skills, what new staff? When creating a new program, I need to review its goals, how to staff it, how to fund it, and how to test if it works. I also respond to requests for help, directing each one to the person in the organization most fit to respond. And of course, a significant part of my job is fundraising; I plan ideas for campaigns and also meet with donors.

Finally, I believe that one of the roles of an organization’s leader is to make sure that all of the team members understand how important their work is and how much they’re making a difference with their work. Baruch Hashem, PUAH has been a catalyst in helping thousands of people build a family. I’m proud of our accomplishments, which include lectures, conferences, and awareness events we’ve run across the country for rabbis, community members, college students and medical professionals; and introducing halachic supervision to the US (Halachic supervision, which was innovated by Rav Menachem Burstein, founder of PUAH, ensures that a trained halachic witness is present during all treatment or lab procedures involving the transfer of genetic material, which is vital for preserving halachic yichus.)

As the executive director, I continuously work to identify more needs and develop more projects that may help our couples on their journey to parenthood. It’s my role to both develop these initiatives and also find the funding for them. Some noteworthy achievements include adding rabbinic advisors to our American team, creating the PUAH Cares team of mental health professionals to offer emotional support, developing educational workshops and conferences, opening our taharas hamishpachah hotline, and more.

How I Chose the Profession

I lived in Israel from 1991 to 2004, and one of my friends was a volunteer at Machon PUAH. She introduced me to the organization, and I fell in love. I became so passionate about PUAH’s mission to assist couples struggling with infertility that when we moved back to the US, I expanded PUAH USA, in order to service the American population.

I didn’t have any formal training as an executive director (my degrees are in special education and art therapy!) but I did have three qualities that I think every executive director needs:

passion and love for the mission and for giving to Am Yisrael;

the humility to know what I don’t know how to do;

the wisdom to build a great team and to value every member of it.

What I Love Most about the Field

I love the awesome impact that we have both on individuals and on the Jewish community as a whole.

I also love meeting with our donors and supporters. Although asking for money is quite difficult, I have tremendous respect for all who give, and it makes me so proud that we as a people care so much about our fellow Jews.

Then there are the actual people struggling through the complex, difficult journey of infertility. Their strength, emunah, and tenacity in the face of so many difficulties is humbling and inspiring, and fuels my energy to keep bringing more information to the community and more support to the organization, so that we can help more people.

What I Find Most Challenging about the Field

Our main challenge is the same one that all nonprofit organizations face: fundraising. But as a fertility organization, we face an added dimension of difficulty. Testimonials and word-of-mouth recommendations are the cornerstone of most marketing efforts, but infertility is a particularly sensitive issue, and it’s rare to find people willing to discuss these topics publicly.

I’ll Never Forget When

Rabbi Elan Segelman, our rabbinic director, flew to L.A. a few years ago to present at a PUAH conference. When he arrived in the airport, a frum person approached him and asked him for a ride. Rabbi Segelman replied that he was taking a taxi to present at a conference, and he had no idea if the direction he was going in would be helpful. When the man curiously inquired which conference he was presenting at, Rabbi Segelman told him, and asked if he’d ever heard of PUAH.

“Have I heard of it?” the man exclaimed. “My three children are all thanks to PUAH!”

Something I Wish People Knew About Executive Directors

The job goes way beyond full-time.

How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years

The level of professionalism in Jewish nonprofits has increased tremendously. It’s no longer simply about a group of people coming together to do chesed. While, of course, that’s the driving force behind any nonprofit, today people recognize that in order to effectively make a difference, an organization needs to run professionally and efficiently, just like any other corporate business. Understanding this, in recent years I’ve hired an outside consultant agency called Smart Solutions Group to help us improve our workflow, processes, and structure development.

My Advice for People Starting Out

You must truly care and believe in the mission of your nonprofit. It’s not just a job; it’s a calling. A person needs to be fully committed to make any project work — and running a nonprofit requires 150% of your energy.

That said, make sure you regularly carve out personal and family time. I regret not having done more of that myself. There’s always more to be done at work, but you can never replace time with your family.


Baltimore, MD
Executive Director, Talmudical Academy of Baltimore
Graduated from: Certificate Degree in Non-Profit Management, Touro College and the National Council of Young Israel
Years in Field: 17
My Typical Day at Work

I work at the Talmudical Academy in Baltimore, more commonly known as TA. At 105 years old, it’s the oldest day school in America outside of New York City and the third oldest in the country.

My basic responsibilities revolve around the operational aspects of running the school. I’m responsible for overseeing the business office, the finances, budgeting, general fundraising, and campaign development, along with overseeing the facilities and food service departments. I manage an incredible team of people who are extremely dedicated to the yeshivah’s success.

I don’t know if there’s any typical day; every day brings a new set of challenges and opportunities, and the tasks can vary greatly from one day to the next. I spend a lot of time working with people, planning and executing both short-term and long-term projects, and trying to ensure that the school operations run smoothly. I really view myself as a marbitz Torah — but instead of being in the classroom or managing curriculum, I ensure that everything else is taken care of so the rebbeim, teachers, and principals can focus on teaching. When everything around them is running smoothly, the teaching is better and the kids learn better.

How I Chose the Profession

I was learning in kollel in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, with aspirations to be a high school rebbi. During bein hasedorim, I started doing odd jobs in the yeshivah office and had the opportunity to spend some time with the yeshivah’s executive vice president, Rabbi Hayim Schwartz. He took me under his wing and taught me many aspects of his job. I remember sitting in his office for hours listening to him make fundraising and tuition calls, and I watched him work through many projects. During that time, I learned about a certificate course in nonprofit management being offered jointly by Touro College and the National Council of Young Israel, and I decided to enroll. That course solidified my desire to go into this field. My first job was as the executive director of Texas Torah Institute in Dallas. It was my dream job because it combined both of my career aspirations — I was both the executive director and the ninth grade rebbi!

What I Love Most about the Field

I love that no matter what aspect of running the organization I’m working on, it’s all accomplishing the same thing: doing good and helping people. In my case, I work in a yeshivah where I’m involved in the beautiful mission of teaching Torah. But whether you’re the executive director of a chesed organization, a health care organization, a special-needs organization, etc., everything you do on a daily basis is in order to accomplish something hugely meaningful.

I also love the opportunity to form relationships with so many choshuve rabbanim, roshei yeshivah, and community askanim, as well as play a role in the larger community’s development through relationships with other community entities and politicians.

What I Find Most Challenging about the Field

It’s hard to pinpoint a particular challenge since the role of an executive director is so diverse. The bottom line is that if you stay focused on what needs to get done, work with the people around you to accomplish, listen to others, ask advice, and daven for siyata d’Shmaya, no challenge is too big to overcome.

I’ll Never Forget When

When you work for a mosad, you see many miracles and instances of siyata d’Shmaya. The first time I saw this was when I was working in the yeshivah in Dallas. We had several bills coming due to a major upcoming event, and not enough money in the bank. When we wrote the checks for the vendors, we had no idea how we were going to cover them. Then, about an hour before the event, a donor walked into the building with a large check covering all of his outstanding pledges. Later, we added up all of the vendors’ payments and were astounded to see they came out to the exact amount —  to the penny — of the donor’s check! I was blown away; but Rabbi Eliyahu Kaufman, one of the roshei yeshivah who was with me in the office when we discovered this, barely reacted. He’d been in the yeshivah long enough to be used to such occurrences.When you work for a yeshivah, the siyata d’Shmaya is often crystal clear.

Something I Wish People Knew About Executive Directors

How rewarding a career it is. You’re using many skills that could be used to build a business, run a company, or other secular ventures, and instead applying those same skills to building Torah and helping people. While the compensation might not be quite the same as in corporate America, the satisfaction is immense.

How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years

The field of Jewish education has grown exponentially over the last ten years. There are more schools, yeshivos, and educational programs than ever before, addressing almost every need one can think of. Yeshivos today also have many more chinuch resources available. Whether it’s special education resource centers, therapists on staff, or tutors and kriah specialists, schools are far more sophisticated and have the ability to address so many more individual needs. This is a great development for chinuch — but the costs are enormous.

Another area of growth over the last decade is the level of professionalism with which schools are run. Networks and professional development opportunities for executive directors and school leadership abound. Just a few weeks ago, I returned from the annual conference of EDN (Executive Director Network). This network has 900 members, and together with others like it, has been invaluable to executive directors of yeshivos and other organizations within the Torah world.

My Advice for People Starting Out

Create a short list of mentors in the field you can bounce ideas off and ask for advice. This is true no matter how long you’ve been working in the field. When I started out, I didn’t have too many people to turn to, and most probably made a lot of avoidable mistakes. Today, I’m in regular contact with several colleagues and mentors. I’m sure I still make mistakes, but hopefully less of them.

Secondly, make sure you understand your job description! I know it sounds funny, but “Executive Director” means different things to different people and different organizations. In some organizations, the executive director focuses specifically on the operations, and in others the focus is on fundraising. In yet others, the term can mean something else entirely. Some executive directors are running the entire organization, including the chinuch aspect and mission decisions, and in others they have nothing to do with the educational side. So it’s important to really understand the actual job you’re being hired to do.

Also, don’t get stuck aiming for 100% perfection. You may wish you had more information before moving forward on a decision or executing a project, but in this job, you need to be able to move forward and take things to the finish line. There’s a vast amount that needs to get done and you don’t have all of the answers all of the time. You have to be able to go with the information that you have, make decisions to the best of your ability, and then daven that you made the correct decision. At the end of the day, when you are working for Hashem, He has your back!


Lido Beach, N.Y.
Executive Director, Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, Long Island, NY
Graduated from: BA, NYU and MPA in Finance and HR, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Years in Field: 16
My Typical Day at Work

I’m essentially responsible for anything not education-related in our schools (which include HALB, Lev Chana, SKA, DRS, and Avent). That encompasses: fundraising, HR, finance, procurement, payroll, benefits, operations, facilities, maintenance, busing, security, grants, insurance, legal compliance, financial aid, tuition/collections, development, and camp. (I probably missed a few!)

My typical day starts around 6 a.m., when I check my emails and my calendar for the day as I get ready for work. I usually start by looking for any time-sensitive emails that may have come in overnight or anything that might impact the start of the school day. I then arrive at work around 8 a.m. and start off answering emails. I spend a nice chunk of my day either responding to emails or answering calls, be it from teachers, parents, administrators, the district, or parents of prospective students. While much of my day is spent behind my desk, I’ll also travel to the different schools for regular meetings, facilities walkthroughs, etc.

On any given day I usually have at least one in-person meeting with the head of school or a board member. I try to space out my meetings so that I meet with administrators during the school day and board members at night, once they’re home from work. Since I can usually only meet with board members in the evenings, I tend to stay late at work when I need board member input into any decision making. My typical day goes until 5:30 or 6 p.m. on days when I don’t have a parent meeting, board meeting, or finance meeting. At least once a week I have an evening meeting; these usually don’t start until 7:30 p.m. and end anywhere from 10 p.m. until 12 a.m. (yes, unfortunately, I regularly have meetings that end close to midnight).

How I Chose the Profession

I didn’t; it chose me! As a newly married recent college graduate, I needed to find a job that would provide me with health insurance. I decided to take a part-time job as an assistant in an elementary school. After a year, the principal of the school realized that I was extremely good at math and that my skills could be used in the finance office. Over the years, I was promoted through the system from secretary to business manager to assistant finance officer, finance officer, and director, until I worked my way up to executive director.

I would never be able to do what I do today if I hadn’t had all those years of experience working my way up and performing so many different jobs within the education field. My strong math and finance skills have also proven essential, since budgeting, finance, and accounting are all an integral part of successfully running any business office. And of course, to work in this field, you must have a passion for helping others. At the end of the day, I’m not just running a business; I’m running an institution to educate children.

What I Love Most about the Field

I love that my job is different every day. I never know what email will come, what problem will surface, what I can do to help someone. Each day I’m given a new challenge, and a new ability to help my families.

What I Find Most Challenging about the Field

The biggest challenge with running any large institution is the personalities! I’m not just running a school; I’m running a school full of people, each with their own unique personality, needs, and wants. When you’re juggling the needs of parents, students, and employees, no decision is ever black and white, and making everyone happy is a never-ending challenge.

I’ll Never Forget When

I’m very grateful that in my position, I’ve been fortunate to help many parents in need. Unfortunately, as families apply for financial aid or as tuition payments bounce, I often have deep and difficult conversations with families. Over the last two years, I’ve run into a handful of cases where I realized that the mothers were in abusive relationships. I was able to guide them to receive community support to get them out of their marriage and back on their feet. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that I’ve truly helped someone in need — even if I’m the only one who knows about it.

Something I Wish People Knew About Executive Directors

The job never ends. Many people think that because school is closed in the summer, I get the summer off. Actually, the summer is my busiest time since I’m dealing with teacher contracts, camp, the start of the school year, tuition, financial aid, etc.

How I’ve Seen the Field Change Over the Years

I’ve been working in educational administration for many years, both in the public school system and the Jewish educational world. The biggest shift I’ve seen has been the effort made to provide for students who require additional educational support. When I started working, any child who needed something more than basic resource room support would have to go to a separate school. And most Jewish children went to public school if they had a complex IEP, social or emotional concerns, or extensive special needs. Today thankfully, our schools have shifted to accommodate all types of learners, and we’re able to provide a Jewish education to students with all sorts of special needs classifications. We still have a long way to go in this area, but we’re headed in the right direction.

My Advice for People Starting Out

Don’t be scared to push for what you believe in. When I started out, I was constantly told to stop trying so hard. This is how things are and there’s no point in trying to push for change. I used to be furious when I’d hear this — why shouldn’t I try to make things better for the children? Or for the parents? I’ve learned over the years that it’s important to believe in your ability to improve things, rather than to be resigned to the status quo. Even if you can’t change everything, go into each day with the goal of working to make at least one person’s day a little better.


Coming up: Travel Agents.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 927)

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