Title Troubles

In recent years non-profits have been changing the titles they use to describe their leaders. It used to be the top person was almost always called an executive director. That is still the title of choice for many organizations, but many others now call their leader a president. That's fine. The word connotes a greater stature and more clearly differentiates the leader from department directors. It seems a helpful distinction and it does no harm.

But I've also noticed that more non-profits are styling their presidents as "President and CEO." That harmless little acronym CEO sounds awfully corporate to me. It is certainly true that the president of a charity also is the "chief executive officer" of the organization, and I understand that some organizations use the extra title to indicate that the person holding the title of chairman isn't also the top executive involved in day-to-day management. Still, such a double-hung nameplate seems out of place in the charitable world if only because it is so closely associated with corporate America.

It appears that the board's corporate mindset and the president's willingness to go along with it was the root cause of American University's embarrassing excesses. That mindset also led to investigations of American University by the IRS, FBI and Senate Finance Committee. The committee chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley, is sure to follow up, having described Ladner as the "poster child" for the need to reform non-profit governance.

Maybe changing the way we describe our leaders is the place to start that process of reform. Ya think?


Bruce D. Collins

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