Name: Molly Clayton
Number of years as a CEO or Executive: 6.5 years
Current Title: Executive Director, Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Molly Clayton is responsible for advancing the mission of the Texas Campaign through leadership of strategic initiatives and efficient management of human and financial resources. Prior to this role, she served as the first Executive Director of the Texas Partnership for Out of School Time (TXPOST), a nonprofit statewide network dedicated to increasing the quality and availability of after school and summer learning opportunities for Texas youth. Molly has also served as the Vice President of Statewide Initiatives for United Ways of Texas, managing efforts to address education, family financial stability, and disaster recovery issues. Her background includes 12 years of experience in nonprofit leadership, consulting, and business administration. She holds an MBA from the University of Manchester in the UK and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from the University of Texas at Austin. Molly played a couple of seasons of banked-track roller derby with the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls before retiring from the sport to go to grad school. She gets most of her exercise these days chasing her two young boys, who are just as fast and almost as reckless!
1. What advice would you give to professionals who have taken on a CEO or executive role for the first time?
Find your people – joining a network or linking up with other E.D.s and/or nonprofit leaders you can ask for/share support, resources, templates, etc. will be the best investment of your time and effort.
2. What is your best advice to navigate the first 90 days?
Listen and learn; build relationships; explore organizational ‘baggage’ and remember there are multiple perspectives on any issue. In my experience, it is easy to wonder why a previous E.D. didn’t do X, Y, or Z, until you walk in those shoes for a while and realize that there are only 24 hours in a day. Prioritize fiercely – identify what only you can do and delegate/eliminate the rest.
3. What is your best advice on how to work with the board?
Listen. Find common ground. Offer learning opportunities. Value their time and input, even if you don’t always agree. Recruit board prospects you can learn from.
4. What is your best advice on leading a team?
Hire people who strive for excellence – it makes managing much easier. Own your mistakes and try to learn from them. Give praise publicly and offer suggestions for improvement privately. Find out how you can help them meet their professional goals while achieving your mission.
5. What is your best fundraising advice?
Use data to build donor confidence that you know your stuff and stories to connect them to your mission. Constantly assess which fundraising strategies are most lucrative vs the effort needed to sustain them. As you grow, invest in ‘friendraising’ as much as ‘fundraising’.
6. Share your greatest failure as a CEO and executive and the lesson learned. We often learn the most from our failures.
My greatest failures have come from not trusting my gut, my experience, and that little voice that keeps pestering me if I don’t pay attention to it.
I once made the mistake of trusting a national policy ‘expert’ to guide policy priorities for my Texas-based organization, which backfired due to our unique political environment. It made building trust and relationships at the Capitol harder than it would have been otherwise and embarrassed the volunteers we had engaged to advocate.
Another time, I ignored signs that a new employee was incapable of meeting the demands for the job and exhausted extensive agency resources over several months trying to compensate. We ultimately had to let her go, and it was even more excruciating because I knew in my heart it would end that way all along and had just procrastinated on a hard situation.
7. Recommended reading. What book helped you on your journey?
The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I’m not a particular person of faith, but their wisdom on finding joy even in a world with so many atrocities has lifted me up many times over the years. It’s not a book, but a podcast about the Focus Funnel by Rory Vaden has helped me think about how I manage my time and effort, which are always insufficient to meet the demands.
I hope this helps. Let me know. Sharing is caring.
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Thank you to those nonprofit CEO and Executive Directors who’ve generously done the 7 questions!
I hope reading 7 Questions with Molly Clayton helps you in your nonprofit journey.
Your mission matters,
Sabrina Walker Hernandez