ED Happy Hour

[Update: EDs from outside of Seattle can now open your own branch of EDHH. Here’s the TOOLKIT]

This page is for nonprofit Executive Directors only. If you’re not an ED, please stop reading. You’re still reading, aren’t you? Very well, then. Executive Director Happy Hour (EDHH) is a time one a month for us EDs to get together and discuss capacity building, cultural competency, and best practices.

JUST KIDDING!!! It’s just a bunch of EDs getting together to drink and complain about stuff. Well, and also to talk about ED standards of conduct, like these 13 EDiquette every ED should follow. To get on the exclusive mailing list (which sends hilarious reminders and recaps of EDHH in Seattle), email me at nonprofitwithballs@gmail.com and tell me what organization you’re the ED of. You can be on the list even if you’re not in Seattle.

Now, some of you may have questions about ED Happy Hour, so I’ve prepared answers to the commonly-asked ones below:

Question 1: How did ED Happy Hour start?
Answer: At a meeting months ago, several EDs were complaining about stress. A couple of EDs mentioned how great it would be if we all had a billion dollars and private yachts. However, yachts are kind of expensive (I think they’re at least $5,000 dollars each), so the next best thing is for us to have a regular time to hang out in a stress-free context. Hence, happy hour.

Question 2: Is there any research that shows happy hours actually help EDs in the long run?
Answer: Uh…why, yes, research shows that EDs who attend at least 4 happy hours a month on average perform 1200% better on the, um, Wichita Standardized Test of Non-Profit Executive Performance (WSTNPEP)

Question 3: Did you just make up the “WSTNPEP”?
Answer: Of course not. You can check for its registration at the International Bureau of Standardization (IBS).

Question 4: If I’m not an ED, can I still join ED Happy Hour?
Answer: No. ED Happy Hour is mainly for Executive Directors/CEOs or former ones (“ED-Emeritus”). We make occasional, but very rare, exceptions. We don’t mean to be exclusive, but it is kind of like a support group for EDs. When an ED breaks down weeping in the fetal position during a meeting, a Development Director might be bewildered, but another ED would understand completely.

Question 5: What do you talk about at ED Happy Hours?
Answer: Our topics of conversations break down as follow: 25% complaints about board/staff/consultants/volunteers; 40%, recipes of our favorite drinks; 15% complaints about our families/spouses, and how fast teenagers are texting these days. 20%, who would win in a fight, a hungover gladiator, or a ninja who accidentally took night-time cold medication; 5% Discussion of economics, funding, politics, and other global issues; 5%, why US students are falling behind in math.

Question 6: How many EDs usually show up?
Answer: We’ve had 6 to 18 ED’s each time, with an average of 12, but we haven’t really done that much outreach. All EDHHs are “Bring an ED friend,” so all EDs are encouraged to bring another ED or two. If you bring a friend, you get extra hummus, and some ED Points.

Question 7: What are ED Points?

Answer: We have established a system where EDs can earn points for various actions. For example, for attending another ED’s annual fundraiser, you get 20 points. Points earn you title—such as “Syngery Harvester” and “Paradigm Shifter”—and the respect of your peers. For the complete list of how to earn points and all the titles you can get, you just join the EDHH mailing list by emailing me at nonprofitwithballs@gmail.com

Question 8: With so many EDs in one room, can we use some of this time discuss building a coalition to advance issues that we care about?
Answer: You are officially exiled from all future ED Happy Hours.

Question 9: When do EDHHs take place, and where?
Answer: They often take place at an ED’s house. It’s much cheaper and cozier than a bar or restaurant, and we don’t get kicked out for getting into loud arguments about ninjas and gladiators. As for when, I can’t tell you unless you’re an ED. If you are, email nonprofitwithballs@gmail.com, and I’ll add you to the EDHH mailing list. If you know an ED who wants to join the list, please forward the link of this page to them.

Question 10: Do I have to bring anything?
Answer: ED Happy Hour is meant to be as stress-free as possible for everyone, so if it’s not stressful to bring something, the host ED would appreciate snacks or drinks. If it’s too stressful, don’t worry about it. If you have a half-empty bottle of scotch in your office–and who doesn’t?–bring that. If you have a Two-Buck Chuck bottle of wine, bring it. If you have 3 mint Oreos left over from a staff meeting, bring them. If no one brings any food or wine, we’ll just raid the host ED’s place and consume whatever is available, college-style. Point is, we have enough stressful meetings. EDHH should never be one of them.

Question 11: Uh, I am on the EDHH mailing list, but I want to get off. What should I do?
Answer: The ED Happy Hour mailing list will only be used for the following purposes 1. Remind EDs of up-coming ED Happy hours 2. Recap the hilarious hijinxs of the previous ED Happy Hour 3. Tell EDs of other fun events, but ONLY if they involve free food/drinks. If you want off this mailing list, please send me an email.

Question 12: How come you have time to write up this list of FAQs? I mean, don’t you have, like, a grant to write or staff to yell at or something?
Answer: One of the great things about being an ED is that we can work whatever hours we want, as long as they add up to 80 hours a week. I actually took the afternoon off to write this list.

Question 13: How did you get to be an ED? Did your board just take anyone who breathes or what?

Answer: Look, Dad, we’ve been through this. I’m not going to med-school

  • vgnagel

    I’d love to participate, but the airfare to Seattle isn’t in my budget. How can we create a virtual happy hour?

    • Vu

      Vici, I’m working on an EDHH toolkit, so that EDHH can spread all over the world. You should start an ED Happy Hour group in Phelan, CA.

      • vgnagel

        GREAT idea!

  • Claire Petersky forwarded me this link.

    I’m transitioning into an ED roll with a local 501 c 3

    I am not the ED yet (no funding but that is the plan for me) but discovered that the prior ED had left and I was the only paid staff when I was given the ED email address and informed that capacity building, fundraising, etc… is all mine. (no stress there… right?)

    I have the email address, but not the official title yet, and I most certainly have the responsibility and stress, but am still not sure if I quite “qualify” to join your group (which looks insanely wonderful)

    • Vu

      Hi Lisa. You sound like an ED. Email me at vu.le at vfaseattle.org and I’ll add you to the ED list. You won’t be able to earn ED points or get ED merit badges until you officially become an ED, but you can certain come to EDHH.

  • Vu,

    I’m the Executive Director of a not for profit in Durham-Chapel Hill and I love your blog. I’ve begun sharing it with my staff. I write my own weekly message to the community and it’s murder to do—I call it my deal with the devil. I’d love to share that with you and to keep in touch.

    Keep up the great work,
    Steve Schauder

    Executive Director
    Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill
    1937 West Cornwallis Road, Durham NC 27705
    Office: 919.354.4936
    http://www.ShalomDCH.org / http://www.LevinJCC.org

    • Vu

      Thanks for commenting, Steve. I’ve read through some of your Weekly Wows, and you guys do a lot. Let me know if you’d like to be on the EDHH mailing list. It’s fun, even if you can’t come to them.

  • Rebecca Lane

    I’m an ED in recovery. I sure wish I had known about EDHH before I threw in the towel and took a plain ol fundraising job!

    • Rebecca, I’m sorry this reply is so late. I’m sorry also that you threw in the towel. First of all, EDs are rare. And also, towels are expensive. I hope you’ll come back to our noble profession, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes.

  • Chris Wilder

    We full-on, totally do this in Silicon Valley. Except that we do it at noon, once a month. Also, there’s no cocktails. Hm. Maybe we suck at this.

  • We’re starting an EDHH in NYC! Last Friday of every month from 5-8 pm starting March 27 – and we will definitely have end-of-the-week cocktails. Write me at judy@causeeffective.org if you’re an interested NYC ED!

  • Jan Holder

    Is there an EDHH in Tucson? There should be. We drink a lot of tequila.

  • DBChen

    I guess I’m an ED-emeritus. Back when I was an ED, I organized 2 ED support groups, basically friends in 2 different but intersecting fields. Anyway, they definitely were happy hours except for one that started as a breakfast meeting and then then stretched into lunch. It was so valuable to have that time with peers who understand the pressures of being in the vice between board, staff, volunteers, donors, community, and partners, not to mention the work-life balance thing.

  • Alison Brewin

    We have a breakfast for women ED’s monthly and its great, but not as light-hearted. we should be more light-hearted.