The Chief Development Officer 'Turnaround Specialist'
Recently I wrote about the shortest path to crushing your chief development officer’s morale. Now, I’m writing about how a well-regarded and successful CDO can get cut from the team.
Struggling professional sports franchises are well-known for seeking out coaches who are “turnaround specialists.” These individuals have a track record of coming into an organization and implementing a system that results in some significant level of improvement, measured in wins. Their system succeeds in getting better performance out of the talent on hand. Team owners love this, because they are getting more wins for the same dollars—the same player salaries.
What happens next is usually predictable. Without investing in additional resources, (player talent), the team plateaus. Management—and fans—eventually become dissatisfied with the new normal. Players become disgruntled and often look to be traded to other organizations. Without investment in talent and a long-term strategy to build on short-term gains, the program stalls—which is when management gets rid of the old turnaround specialist and starts shopping for a new silver bullet.
I’d love you to believe those last two paragraphs were my own, but if you know me, you also know I am married to a 6-foot-10-inch former University of Virginia basketball player, Otis Fulton. Since meeting Otis, I can now identify a zone versus man-to-man defense on the basketball floor, and when it changes (insert your gasp of surprise). Since Otis is also our psych specialist, the worlds of nonprofit, sports and psychology often collide in our work at Turnkey.
When he shared what happens to turnaround specialists in the sports world, I knew that I saw the same thing in nonprofit. And it happens a lot.
To speak to my own peer-to-peer world more specifically, organizations bring in a new CDO or national event vice president. The newbie accomplishes a turnaround, raising income with no additional investment but through sheer “I’m good at this-ness.”
Then, the board and CEO stare expectantly, waiting for the next lovely golden egg, but putting no resources into the equation. Even with the benefit of hindsight, boards and CEOs often forget that the turnaround specialist already found the waste, the poor methods, the under-performing employees, the hard-to-use online tool, the bad organizational structure, the poorly negotiated contracts. They found it all and fixed the majority. And now, with all that fixed, it is time to fuel the new and better machine. Instead, no fuel (in the form of budget) is given, the revenue plateaus and the CDO is blamed.
The employee merry-go-round starts afresh, with people landing in a new job with all the same issues as the old job. And the place they just left? They think they have a rock star, but what they actually have is a survivor of the same merry-go-round delivery from another nonprofit. While occasionally employees leave or are encouraged to leave for good reasons, most often we are playing “grass is greener” games looking for “exponential growth,” a phrase that is the hallmark of every conversation leading to “goodbye.”
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.