Organizational Leadership Briefs for Executive Directors








Regional development organizations are called upon to serve various functions for their constituents, providing communities with a host of services, resources, data, and other information.  They work every day to support prosperous communities, forge stronger local and regional economies, and improve quality of life for residents.  Given the complexity of the programming, funding, and coordination involved to meet its responsibilities, the executive director of an RDO must be prepared to embrace a variety of roles to effectively lead the organization in achieving its mission and goals.  This means being a strong leader, communicator, networker, consensus-builder, practitioner, and visionary – all at the same time.

From 2015-2016 through a generous grant from the US Economic Development Administration’s Chicago Regional Office, the NADO Research Foundation partnered with Steve Etcher, Location Strategies Manager at MarksNelson and former executive director of the Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Missouri, to provide organizational leadership and professional training to RDOs and Economic Development Districts.  Workshops, sessions, and consultations held in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota targeted at executive directors and senior staff covered a diverse set of topics important to effectively and efficiently leading their organizations.

The following issue briefs are a summary of the material presented at these trainings.  They cover a wide spectrum of topics, ranging from organizational sustainability to conducting useful board meetings to critical financial reporting.  These briefs are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather introduce new executive directors or refresh veteran leaders about important issues and themes they should be addressing in their leadership roles.  The seven issue briefs are:

The briefs can be read together as a series or on their own, depending on the reader’s areas of interest.  Please note that these briefs are for educational and training purposes only and do not purport to offer legal advice.  To view PDFs, use Adobe Reader.


The briefs highlight material presented at workshops held in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota targeted at executive directors and senior staff.
The briefs highlight material presented at workshops held in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota targeted at executive directors and senior staff.

About the Author

Steve Etcher is a Manager in the Location Strategies Practice of MarksNelson, LLC, a full service accounting and business advisory firm located in Kansas City, Missouri.  A recognized leader in community and economic development, Steve has been called on to testify before the US House of Representatives and Missouri General Assembly and speak at the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.  He served as president of the Missouri Association of Councils of Governments and on the NADO board of directors.  Steve was the Executive Director of the Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Warrenton, Missouri for more than 20 years.  Prior to joining MarksNelson, he was Vice President of the economic development consulting firm Community EDGE.

About the NADO Research Foundation

The NADO Research Foundation is the non-profit research affiliate of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO), a membership association of the country’s regional development organizations, or RDOs.  “RDO” is a term used to describe the organizations making up the national network of over 540 multi-jurisdictional planning and development agencies throughout the country, which are known locally as Councils of Government, Economic Development Districts, Regional Planning Commissions, or by other names.   These entities work to improve local and regional quality of life by promoting economic and community development through place-based strategies in the areas of housing, transportation, infrastructure, workforce development, entrepreneurship, disaster resilience, aging services, and other sectors.

Founded in 1988, the NADO Research Foundation provides training, research, and peer networking services to NADO members and other partners.  By designing in-person workshops and peer exchanges, organizing webinars and conference calls, publishing case studies and best practices, and providing one-on-one technical assistance, the NADO Research Foundation is at the forefront of researching and sharing the latest innovative approaches to regional economic development in small metropolitan and rural America.

Steve Etcher speaks with the Michigan Association of Regions in Grand Junction, August 2015.
Steve Etcher speaks with the Michigan Association of Regions in Grand Rapids, August 2015.


For more information about the NADO Research Foundation’s professional development and capacity building programming, contact Program Manager Brett Schwartz at [email protected].

The work that provided the basis for these publications was supported by funding under an award with the US Economic Development Administration’s Chicago Regional Office (# 06-06-05883). The author and publisher are solely responsible for the interpretations contained in these publication and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government.


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2023 Impact Awards

The primary applicant must be a NADO member. Project partners, both NADO and non-members, can be recognized under "Project Partners" below.

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This person will be the designated point of contact for all future awards-related correspondence.

Organization Address

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Additional Organizational Information
Please upload your organization's logo which will be included on the winning project award certificate.

Project Information
This title will be printed on the award certificate for winning projects and in all 2022 NADO Impact Award materials and cannot be changed.

Project Summary & Questions
Please craft clear, thoughtful, and engaging responses to the following questions. Use the following sections to tell us how your project has made an impact, such as its use of creative funding mechanisms, efforts to create efficiencies or reduce costs, unique partnership models, and emphasis on building resilience and/or enhancing your region's quality of life.

For award-winning projects, the information provided below may be used verbatim to inform project descriptions that will be published in the 2023 NADO Impact Awards materials and included on the NADO website.

Please submit at least one photo showing your project in action. Please keep file size to a minimum (<2Mb) and use JPEG format. If uploading multiple files, ZIP files prior to submitting. If you have trouble uploading images they can be directly emailed to Brett Schwartz at [email protected]. Include the project title they correspond to in the subject line of your email.

Note: Submitted photos may be used in NADO Impact Awards materials and in other NADO published materials with credit to your organization. Please also consider submitting photos for NADO's 2023 Photo Contest, which will be held this summer.

Your application is not submitted until you are directed to a confirmation page. If you have any questions or are unsure if your application has been submitted, please contact Brett Schwartz at [email protected]

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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.

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