What Does an Executive Director of Operations Do?

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  • Written By: Terry Masters
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 27 February 2020
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An executive director of operations manages the departments in a nonprofit organization that deal with day-to-day functionality, such as finance, technology, human resources and programs. He reports directly to the organization's executive director (ED) and can also act in his place when the ED is unavailable. The position is analogous to the chief operating officer or vice president of operations in a for-profit corporation.

A nonprofit organization has a management structure and position title system that reflects its production of programs and services, rather than products. Nonprofits are corporations, however, so the position titles, particularly at the executive level, tend to have for-profit counterparts that perform the same basic functions in a different context. The head executive position in an ordinary nonprofit is typically called the executive director.

Nonprofits are usually not allowed to carry too many administrative positions, so the executive layers are typically thin, with one executive wearing many hats. As the nonprofit grows in size and its budget and staffing increases, it can sometimes afford to structure the executive levels to more closely resemble a for-profit corporation. One of the positions that is often added at this point is a executive director of operations. This position is designed to take some of the day-to-day management tasks off the plate of the ED so he can concentrate on public relations, fund-raising, strategic planning and working with the board of directors.


It is perhaps easiest to think of the executive director of operations as the boss who manages the staff and is always in the office. In a typical nonprofit organizational structure, the executive director of operations is placed between the ED and every other staff position except the director of development. The heads of finance, human resources, legal, maintenance, technology and programs report directly to him. His job is to keep everything running smoothly, and in accordance with the organization's overall strategic plan.

The executive director of operations also acts on behalf of the executive director if the ED is unavailable. In most organizational set-ups, he is the second-in-command and is authorized to do anything the ED is authorized to do in his absence. An executive director of operations has to be prepared to deal with the public and the media, work with the board of directors and manage fund-raising, if needed, even though those tasks may not be his primary responsibility. The position is also usually responsible for strategic expansion of the organization's operations, such as deciding when to acquire additional office space, or when to expand into a new program area.


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