Major Giving: 4 Must-Dos for Nonprofit CEOs
A CEO who is actively interested and engaged in fundraising is critical to attracting transformative philanthropic investment. For CEOs who have a passion for building relationships with donors or who perhaps served as fundraisers earlier in their careers, rolling their sleeves up and jumping into the fundraising fray comes naturally. Others may have to work harder at it. But no matter what a CEO’s background or level of enthusiasm, a nonprofit will not attract major gifts without his or her active involvement.
Nonprofit CEOs need to focus on these four primary responsibilities for successful major giving.
1. Have and effectively communicate your vision for the organization.
Now more than ever, philanthropists want to understand what an organization is going to do with their money. An organization’s case for support must include a compelling vision for how investment will drive the change the nonprofit and the donor are seeking. To truly resonate, the CEO must eat, sleep and breathe this vision. The CEO, board, key staff leaders and stakeholders need to collaborate to create the vision, but the CEO must embody it and communicate it passionately and often.
2. Engage and constantly refresh the board of directors.
Behind any successful major gifts effort stands a board that is both personally giving and “getting.” A nonprofit’s largest donors and best connectors are its board of directors.
Working with the board’s volunteer leadership, the CEO should take responsibility for driving ongoing board recruitment and engagement. He or she can help board members to fully understand their role in fundraising and set financial objectives for their personal giving and for fundraising. The board chair will set the overall tone, but the CEO must hold board members’ feet to the fire. While the CEO should visit one-on-one with board members throughout the year, at least annually, that conversation should focus on reviewing a board member’s giving and getting and securing commitments for the year ahead.
Possibly the greatest value a CEO can bring to a major-gifts effort is to partner with current board members to be constantly on the lookout for new high-caliber talent to add. The nonprofit’s size and bylaws may restrict the number of new board members that can be added and when, but that does not let the CEO off the hook with regard to identifying and cultivating new board members.
3. Devote time to fundraising.
A CEO who is too busy to spend time with donors should find another job quickly! A CEO needs to spend time with donors and prospects, as well as be available to discuss prospect strategy with the fundraising team. The amount of time a CEO spends on fundraising can vary greatly based on the needs of the organization, but as a rule of thumb, in order to be successful, the CEO should dedicate at least 20 percent of their time; in some cases, up to 50 percent may be warranted.
Having the CEO invest time in fundraising isn’t just about revenue generation. Connecting with donors and supporters personally and regularly helps a CEO gauge the value community leaders place on the nonprofit’s work. It’s the best possible feedback loop to help a CEO gain perspectives on their organization they would not otherwise have.
4. Collaborate with the chief development officer.
A CEO and their chief development officer (CDO) must have a trusting relationship and great chemistry. A nonprofit’s CDO interacts with every facet of the organization, including the board, the boss’s bosses. The right CDO can be a CEO’s essential strategic thought-partner and his or her eyes and ears with the board, staff and constituents. Where this relationship works best both parties will often refer to it as being like a marriage. As in seeking a life partner, CEOs should be looking for a CDO partner whose vision and style are highly compatible with their own.
All of this might seem burdensome and complicated. But to ensure major-giving success, today’s CEO must prioritize and focus attention on the four key activities described above. Fundraising requires conscious attention from the CEO, but it will pay significant dividends.
Craig Shelley (@craigshelley) is a managing director at Orr Group, which provides nonprofits with strategy, fundraising, leadership and management solutions and has offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Craig brings an entrepreneurial approach to fundraising, nonprofit management and strategy. Prior to joining Orr Group, Craig served in a variety of positions with the Boy Scouts of America, most recently as the national director of development and corporate alliances. He serves on the executive committee of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ New York City Chapter and the editorial advisory board for Nonprofit PRO, and is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE).