“Just tell me what you’d like me to do, and I’ll do it.”
—said the CEO, Board member or volunteer when asked to help in fundraising.
As a fundraising professional, you have to be a leader… especially if you are a Director of Development or a Major Gift Officer. This is who I’m addressing today.
Richard and I find that in almost every nonprofit, everyone outside of fundraising is looking to you for leadership in that area. Unfortunately, many development leaders are not doing the job and really leading. This is why we see so many major gift programs – and fundraising programs in general – failing.
Everyone seems to be waiting for someone to lead.
Have you ever been invited to a meeting where everyone starts filing into the conference room and sits down, then there is this awkward moment where everyone is waiting for someone to start the meeting? Finally someone speaks up and says, “Okay, who is leading this meeting?”
That’s how most nonprofit fundraising is being run… everyone waiting for someone to tell them what they need to do.
A couple of months ago, I was in a board meeting of a very high profile nonprofit. The level of professionals, wealth and credentials of the people in that room would blow you away. The development team started reporting its results. None of the board members had any questions of the team, so they moved on to the next agenda item.
Right at the very end of the meeting, one of the board members casually asked the Director of Development if they might be able to help make any introductions to some very high level corporate executives. “Yeah, that would be most welcome, thank you.”
I was about to jump out of my seat. Had that one board member not said anything, the whole meeting would have been a waste. What should have happened in that meeting is that the Development Director should have come to that meeting prepared with a list of individuals, corporations and foundations and asked the board, “who on this list can you help us with? We need your help!”
But that did not happen. The Development Director thought the board would be telling him what they needed to do.
Ironically, this Development Director routinely badmouths the lack of participation and ownership of the board. But the Development Director has it wrong. The Development Director was waiting for the board to lead him in fundraising, and all along the board has been waiting for the Development Director to tell them what they should be doing to help.
And they want to help!!
This same dynamic is happening between Directors of Development, MGOs and CEOs. I hear this all the time: “Gosh, our CEO does not like to fundraise. He will never stop by and ask what he can do with donors. He’s very reactive about anything to do with fundraising.”
No kidding! He or she has the whole organization to run. It’s up to you, as the Development Director, to lead her on fundraising. You need to tell the CEO what she should do with donors. You cannot wait for her to approach you.
You need to set up the meeting with your CEO, and you need to come prepared with the list of donors for her to call and meet. You need to give her background on those donors and tell her the approach she needs to take with each of those donors. You – not anyone else.
If you are an MGO and have donors on your caseload that need to be solicited by the CEO, you have to take the lead to work with that CEO on how best to approach the donor… you can’t wait for the CEO to come to you.
Believe me, Richard and I have sat with many nonprofit executives, board members and volunteers, and they are yearning… yes, yearning for someone to tell them what to do when it comes to fundraising.
What is keeping you from leading?
Here is another secret: donors kind of want the same thing from you. No, donors don’t exactly want you to tell them what to do, but they do want to be led. They want major gift officers to bring them projects and programs that will excite them. They want you to make recommendations on how their gifts should be used. They want you to come to them with options to choose from.
Donors need your leadership too.
Yet you’re afraid. You create stories in your head that either the CEO or the people on the board are too powerful to tell them what they need to do. You create more stories about why you can’t approach your wealthy donors.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
No, this is a you problem. Whether you are a Development Director or MGO, you have got to unblock whatever is blocking you from leading and be bold. Leadership and donors are waiting for you to lead. It’s your job as a non-profit professional to do it.
If you need permission to lead, Richard and I are now giving you permission to do it. CEOs, Board members, volunteers and donors would be served well if you would lead them. Yes, leading is serving them. Ultimately, this will translate into more revenue and deeper relationships with your volunteer leadership and donors.
Go ahead and lead.