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CEOs and Fundraising


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By R. Mark Dillon, Ph.D.

Yes, it is your job!

It was my initial interview with the relatively new CEO of a highly respected nonprofit organization. The discussion was going well. Then he asked the question: “What’s your perspective on the president’s role in fundraising?”

I thought about the “politic” answer, but, throwing caution to the wind, I told him the truth: “You are the chief fundraising officer of this organization.” He recoiled just a bit and said, “What do you mean? The search committee told me I don’t have to worry much about fundraising; that’s what the advancement department is for!”

I have served, now, four nonprofit CEOs — each one unique in their giftedness and approach to the fundraising task. All have been brilliant and committed to the mission of the organization. Each has been given the weight of responsibility to ensure, within their power and with God’s help, that the organization is left in a better place than when they assumed responsibility.

But the simple truth is this: while the great CEO must delegate well, there are a few things that should not be delegated. One is ultimate responsibility for the development performance of the organization. So, how can a conscientious CEO lead the organization to its fundraising potential?

Know Yourself

Make an honest self-assessment. Is it your gift developing relationships with key constituents? Are you comfortable with the “ask,” or would you rather someone else do that? Are you a good vision-caster? (Probably, or you wouldn’t be a CEO.) What do you have a heart for? What is the last thing you want to do in development work?

No CEO can be exceptional at everything. That is why you must assemble the right people in your development team to counterbalance your development gifts. Good at relationships, but bad at organizing key “touches?” That’s ok, if you enlist team members to organize key contacts in the course of your schedule. If you struggle with “calling the question” be intentional about transferring your credibility to the appropriate person on your development team who can winsomely ask for the gift. If you are realistic about what you can do and shore up the things you can’t (or won’t) do, you can lead and succeed in your development effort, regardless of your skill set.

Hire well

You are responsible for the effectiveness of your team. Do the gifts of your senior development team compliment yours? If not, stewardship requires that you recruit the giftedness you need to succeed in the fundraising task. Only you can make the tough personnel calls that can put your organization in a position to succeed in resourcing your mission.

Set the tone

While you can’t (and shouldn’t) be involved in the development “grunt-work,” you can set a tone that leads your development team. Do you exude confidence in your mission, your strategy, and your team? Do you readily celebrate successes with your development team? A quick note of congratulations or a surprise “thank you” can empower your team.

Give credit away

One of the most powerful ways to lead and energize givers is to give away credit for gifts. Give credit first to God, whose redemptive work in the giver made the gift possible. Thank the giver, who has listened to God’s Spirit and invested in Christ’s kingdom. It will mean the world to them. Thank the gatherer. Great fundraising takes organization, courage, and tenacity. Often, God uses the fundraiser to call God’s people to stewardship obedience. When you give credit away, it comes back to you in amazing ways.

Do your part

Having established your giftedness and your shortcomings in fundraising, do what you do well willingly and often for your development team. Lead the development effort while letting them do the work you have hired them to do. If you’re not sure what your part should be, ask your development team. I bet they can easily tell you the best way to contribute to fundraising success.

Give the rest to God

Most of us expect our leader to excel in everything! That’s not realistic even for the most gifted. Ask God to show you how to shore up any weaknesses. His Spirit can guide you to people (board members, volunteers, or staff) who can help you accomplish much more than any one person could. That will increase your effectiveness as the chief fundraising officer of your organization!

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R. Mark Dillon, Ph.D., is executive vice president of mission advancement at American Bible Society, New York City. Mark is the author of Giving and Getting in the Kingdom: a Field Guide (Moody Publishers, 2012). This article is an excerpt from the 2014 Spring edition of Outcomes Magazine.

2014CLA.OAP.liWant to sharpen your fundraising skills? Consider enrolling in the Summer quarter of the CLA Online Academy. Registration closes on June 9 and classes begin on June 16. Take your leadership to the next level and register today.

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