You Can’t Excel in a Campaign Without a Committed Nonprofit CEO
If you’re looking at a major campaign in the next few years, the time is now to ensure that your nonprofit CEO is 100% committed to its success.
If you’re a CEO, it’s time for a gut check and a commitment.
If you’re a board chair, or incoming chair, you need to have a serious conversation with the CEO.
If you’re the chief development officer, you need to coach and educate the CEO and board leadership on this… and if they don’t embrace it, I’d suggest polishing your resume.
It is that serious.
We’ve worked with campaigns of all sizes. In every instance of great success, the CEO was fully engaged, committed and excited.
The few campaigns that never moved beyond the feasibility and planning stage were nearly always due to one factor—lack of engagement by the CEO.
Last year we worked with a church on a planning study. The senior pastor was completely disengaged throughout the process, but would occasionally interject mixed messages along the way. The campaign, we soon realized, was about his image and ego. During the study process he travelled extensively, did not take time to personally reach out to key leaders and was preoccupied writing a book. Tough love: You cannot write a book, travel extensively, fulfill your role as CEO and be engaged in preparing for a major campaign all at the same time.
A few years back I was giving advice to a friend on a campaign that we had passed on. Our reason? A feeling that the CEO would not follow counsel. We want a campaign to be as successful as the client does. This one languished due to many factors, but mostly because the CEO didn’t take time to prepare and wasn’t fully engaged. It was taking months to schedule major donor visits—not because of the donors’ schedules, but because the CEO was travelling for vacation and projects not related to the organization. We made the right call.
This commitment begins with time and includes a willingness to follow the guidance of the chief development officer and that of counsel. Once we were working with a CEO who had only experienced one campaign previously. Unfortunately, it was a campaign that was not planned or executed properly, and it dragged on for years. His frame of reference, unfortunately, always went back to that campaign, even though his new campaign was on track to far exceed the previous campaign’s goal in one year—versus nearly five years of active campaigning for the previous one.
In general, we recommend that a CEO spend at least 25% of his or her time on development and board relations. That ratio needs to exceed 50% during an active campaign.
Before embarking on the steps toward a major campaign, it is essential that the CEO, board leadership and chief development officer are fully engaged and on board in regard to all aspects of the campaign—from strategy, to timeline, to donor visits, to the resources needed to make it successful and everything in between.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.