How to Help Your CEO Succeed at Major Gifts
Too often we encounter a director of development or a major gift officer (MGO) who is exasperated with the CEO or executive director of his or her nonprofit because that leader doesn’t want anything to do with major gifts.
Richard and I hear story after dreadful story from development professionals, like you, who feel they are leaving hundreds of thousands—even millions—of dollars on the table because their CEOs or executive directors will not do their jobs.
As you know, you need your leader to be engaged with major gifts. And your donors need it too.
If your donors are going to make significant investments into your organization, they want access to leadership.
But what do you do when that leader is uncomfortable talking to, cultivating and soliciting donors? Here are some ways to help your CEO or executive director not only get comfortable, but succeed in major gifts:
The first step is to sit down with your CEO and listen to his or her story. Ask questions that will help you understand where the discomfort is and why it is there. Many times there has been a bad experience around money or a donor that has shut him or her down. Try to figure out the root of the problem. Then address it with compassion and understanding. Richard and I have seen CEOs turn around their anxieties just by talking it through and having someone help them understand what the donors need from them.
Many times I hear a CEO or executive director talk about not wanting to bug a donor and how it will offend the donor to ask him or her for money. This is an obvious misconception that the leader latches on to because he or she feels uncomfortable about it. So, the leader creates a story in his or her head to justify the inaction. Your job is to present data. Show your boss your donor file and the potential your donors have to give to your organization. Pass on articles written by nonprofit CEOs who embrace major gift fundraising and why. If you have donors with whom you have a good relationship, then ask them to come in to talk to your CEO or executive director on why they need him or her to be engaged. Nothing would be more powerful than to have a donor speak directly to your CEO or executive director about the importance of his or her leadership in major gifts.
Your job is to make major gifts as easy as possible. This is why you need to manage a small executive caseload of donors for your CEO or executive director. In other words, take all the hard work out of it and tee up touches, lunches and solicitations. To do this, give your organization's leader a weekly to-do list, as well as the background, contact info, etc., so all he or she has to do is make the call or hold the meeting. Leaders get distracted. They get even more distracted when they are uncomfortable with something. Your job is to keep them focused and on point. You need to meet with them on a weekly basis and keep them on task. Don’t allow them to go off somewhere without doing what they promised they would do.
Your CEO became CEO for a reason. They have great skills. Use those skills and turn them toward cultivating and soliciting donors. Obviously he or she has a passion for your mission. Take that passion and help him or her to be an ambassador of it with major donors. This will take practice, patience and more practice. Richard and I have sat with CEOs and executive directors, and while it may take some time, they can be coached into becoming great storytellers and solicitors for major gifts.
Nonprofit leaders are like all of us—they need to be praised and encouraged in their work. Many times I hear from CEOs or executive directors that they often feel alone. I think that is a shame. Your job with a leader is always to encourage and look for wins for them. The best way to get a leader to be excited about major gifts is for he or she to experience a donor saying "yes" firsthand. Your job is to make that happen as often as possible until your CEO has got it and embraced major gifts as integral to his or her job.
Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. This is not easy. But, Richard and I have seen so many leaders, who everyone once thought were hopeless with major gifts, have complete turnarounds and become great with donors.
Your job is to stick with it. There will be times you will be discouraged. Don’t give up. Your nonprofit needs you to keep moving forward.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.