Why You Need to Lead Your CEO
Being a major gift fundraiser is one of the toughest careers you could choose. Being a successful one is even harder work. One barrier to being extraordinary in your job is a reluctant CEO or executive director.
Conversely, Richard and I have seen amazing CEOs and executive directors who are just waiting on the development team to lead and manage them through the major gift waters, yet the director of development or the vice president of major gifts is not using them properly.
Both of these situations are tragic, yet in almost every nonprofit with which we work, we see one or the other happening when we start working with them.
There are two truths about major gifts, and if they are embraced, you will be successful:
- Leadership has to welcome participating fully in major gift fundraising. This means the CEO, executive director, chief operating officer, chief financial officer, chief technology officer—whatever C you have in your organization—as well as the board.
- You, as the head of development or major gifts, have to lead them.
Richard and I have sat with development directors across the country, listening to them lament about how their CEOs don’t like to ask for money or even want to talk to donors. They tell us how there is no culture of philanthropy; all the responsibility is on them to raise money from major donors.
On the flip side, we also have sat across the table from many CEOs who are so frustrated with their development teams because "They don’t use me enough in talking to donors." Or, "I just wish they would tell me what I have to do because I’m too busy to worry about this everyday."
Both of these types of problems really require the development director to take two courses of action: leadership and action.
It really is your responsibility to lead and manage the leadership of the organization if you are going to be successful in major gifts. You are the one terminally responsible for the revenue, therefore, you have to be the one to step it up and lead both the leadership and board to do the work necessary that your organization needs.
Believe me, the pressure on CEOs or executive directors is enormous. They are pulled in many directions that are not even fundraising related. In almost 99 percent of the conversations Richard and I have with them, they want someone to lead them on major gifts.
I want to make sure you heard that correctly. Your CEO, executive director and/or board is waiting on you to lead them!
This will mean that if your CEO doesn’t embrace major gifts and/or understand their value, you have to be the one that helps him or her get it. If your executive director doesn’t understand why a culture of philanthropy is important at your organization, you’re the one to lead them.
In fact, many times, as part of the work with do with nonprofits, development directors ask us to help them with getting leadership inspired about talking to donors. Then we help coach their CEOs on why asking donors for money is one of the best things they can do for the donors.
That takes leadership and action on the part of the development directors.
Then, there is the CEOs that want to be lead. As a development director, I hope you are not in this situation. But, if you are, you have the ability to turn it around. I know, because we help many of them do this, and they regain the trust of the CEO and have successful careers.
Here is how you can lead your CEO:
- Develop an executive caseload. You have to be the one that manages it for your CEO, but he or she needs you to develop the caseload, and take the lead on setting goals and developing the communication strategy.
- Set up weekly meetings. Or, if you have one already, set aside 20 to 30 minutes to discuss major donors and your next moves with your CEO.
- Hold strategy sessions about individual donors. This way you can make sure the CEO knows exactly what is his or her role before events or meetings with donors.
- Have coaching sessions. Make sure your CEO is comfortable asking donors for money and knows how to do it properly. Do role-playing exercises. Help your CEO feel good about his or her role in the ask.
- Lead. Don’t be afraid to tell your CEO to get back on track and hold him or her accountable to a promise. The CEOs that Richard and I talk with want you to hold them accountable. It is usually the development director who is uncomfortable playing this role. But you have to overcome that.
Again, in order for you to be successful in helping your CEO, executive director and board do the necessary work of major gifts, you will have to lead and take action. You cannot sit back and wait for it to happen. It never will.
Instead, with a bold spirit and humble hand, you can guide your CEOs to be successful. And, if they are successful, you will be successful.
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.