EDiquette: 13 Common Courtesies that All Nonprofit EDs Should Follow
Once a month, we Executive Directors get together for ED Happy Hour, a time for all of us to share best practices, discuss the challenges of our field, and strategically plan for collective impact. At least, that’s what we tell people while we discuss topics like who would win in a fight, a hungover gladiator, or a ninja who accidentally took night-time cold medication? Last month, 13 ED's got together, and the topic of ED-to-ED interaction came up. So, in a mostly sober state, we hammered out a list of common Executive Director etiquette, aka "EDiquette.” Here they are, in no particular order:
Ye Olde Liste of EDiquette
EDiquette 1: An ED will always have another ED's back. For example, if another ED texts saying he's having a bad day, we'll drop everything to cheer that ED up. Unless we're talking to a funder. Or playing Scramble with Friends.
EDiquette 2: An ED will not use his or her personal assistant to schedule a meeting with another ED, unless that other ED has a personal assistant too. This generally makes the ED without an assistant feel like crap and is not nice. Each time I get an assistant after directly emailing another ED, I am tempted to write back something like, “Please tell Her Royal Directorship, Mabel the Strategic, Successor to Julian the Programmatic, Successor to Edna the Founder, that I shall be glad to meet with her at noon on the 19th of May, and that upon my return to the office, I shall order my staff to sing her praise for seven and three fiscal years.”
EDiquette 3: An ED will not ask another ED to serve on his or her board. Unless it's short-term and for a very strategic reason, such as turning a particularly challenging board around or bringing balance to a board/staff baseball game.
EDiquette 4: An ED will not fraternize with or poach another ED's staff. Good staff on the team means we ED's can work less while taking credit for more stuff, so it's not nice for another ED to steal them, or groom them to be stolen later.
EDiquette 5: An ED will not ask another ED to be a table captain. We can, however, ask other ED's to purchase individual tickets and be there for support. But, minimum donations do not apply to ED's since we go to so many of these events and would be seriously broke if we had to give the minimum each time.
EDiquette 6: An ED will try not to look at another ED's salary information on 990 Finder. And if she does--shame!--she will not admit to doing so. It is best to assume that all of us are equally underpaid.
EDiquette 7: An ED will not talk bad of another ED. Ex-ED's who chose to leave are fair game, as they have scorned our noble position, and thus we are righteous to spake ill of them and curse their field to remain fallow and their livestock barren until the seventh generation.
EDiquette 8: An ED will not judge another ED's coping methods. It is a stressful job, and each ED deals with it in a different way, be it drinking, or watching excessive amounts of TV, or making sock puppets resembling local program officers and having them act out scenarios where they fund our organizations. (What, like your Saturday nights are soooo much more exciting).
EDiquette 9: An ED will freely share templates. We don't need to reinvent the wheels; it's helpful when ED's share their personnel handbook, anti-discrimination and harassment policy, succession plans, and recipes for simple yet elegant h'ordeuvres.
EDiquette 10: An ED will open doors to funders or other stakeholders when nicely asked by another ED. Especially when asked at a bar after the other ED has bought several rounds already.
EDiquette 11: An ED will not say to another ED, "You look tired." That's just a euphemism for "You look like crap." We know this already. We have accepted the fact that ED's age twice as fast as normal people.
EDiquette 12: An ED will be honest with another ED when asked about the performance of a staff who just applied for a position at the other ED's organization. There are liability issues, so we are using a system of signals. One cough means "This person had a bad attitude and didn't get along with the rest of the team." A yawn means "This person was not good at following through." A long sniffle followed by a sneeze means "This person may actually be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."
EDiquette 13: An ED will publicly admit to knowing another ED, especially in front of program officers, even if that other ED is embarrassing and says things like "I have a sock puppet that looks exactly like you."
If you're an ED, feel free to suggest other items (if you’re not on the EDHH mailing list, email me). And spread this list far and wide, especially to Their Royal Directorships, the ED's who have assistants.
Vu Le is the Executive Director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA), an SVP Investee. His column, “Staff, Retreat!” documents the fun of nonprofit work. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.