#4 in the series: Donors as Mission
donors as mission leadership

There are many great leaders in the non-profit sector. Unfortunately, there are not enough of them who embrace this idea: that building relationships with donors and creating the infrastructure to make that happen is just as important as the work of the organization.
Richard and I believe that the only way organizations will shift their mentality to viewing their donors as part of their mission is 1) current CEOs owning a completely new understanding of the relationship between fundraising and the role they play, and/or 2) a concerted effort in the non-profit space to “rewrite” the job description of what it means to be a CEO or Executive Director of a non-profit.
We get email every day from exasperated Development Directors and Major Gift Officers who cannot get their CEO or ED to support their work. It pains us deeply to read these emails. Here is what we often hear:

  • The leader does not get involved in fundraising and views it as a “necessary evil” that someone else has to do.
  • A leader EXPECTS that donors should just give money because the organization does such great work, therefore he doesn’t need to either ask donors to invest nor take much time to thank or talk to donors.
  • A leader is awkward around donors and doesn’t understand their role of inspiring others to invest in the work they do. Instead, development staff try to keep the leader away from donors as much as possible.
  • The leader has no background in fundraising, and while she thinks it’s important to the organization, she’s clueless about what to do and therefore avoids it as best she can.
  • Top leaders view donors solely as a way to get the “mission” of the organization done. This leads to putting pressure on subordinates to “get the money” and “do it yesterday.”
  • Since donors are a means to an end, their emphasis on fundraising is around cost containment, trying to reduce overhead. They focus solely on cost per dollar raised, and not return on investment. This drives the overall strategy of the fundraising program to squeeze as much as possible out of a donor, at the lowest cost.

Why is this happening all across the non-profit sector? We believe that non-profit leaders 1) have mostly migrated into leadership from the finance or program world if they come from a non-profit background, 2) have no understand how fundraising works and why you should value and build relationships with donors, in the case of the large number who have come from the for-profit world, and 3) have been trained to believe that everything is about “the end product” with little regard for how donors fit into the overall mission.
On the subject of understanding that donors must be part of the mission of a non-profit organization… we have a crisis in leadership.
Those non-profit organizations that have leaders who understand donors as part of the mission will thrive in the next two decades and beyond. Those that don’t will struggle to be relevant.
While this should be a serious wake-up call for non-profit leaders, it’s also an amazing opportunity. Richard and I share a desire that today’s leaders get inspired to change. Here is what leaders who “get” donors as part of their mission look like:

  1. Leaders understand that half of their time is devoted to the donors of the organization.
  2. Leaders support fundraising by bringing finance, program and development to the table to help create inspiring offers for donors.
  3. Leaders seek counsel from donors.
  4. Leaders create a “culture of philanthropy” for the entire organization because “it’s who we are.”
  5. Leaders embrace Return on Investment (ROI) and the need for overhead expenses.
  6. Leaders know how to balance short-term gains with long-term vision by facilitating relationship-building with donors.
  7. Leaders ask for “transformational gifts” from donors because they know the donors’ lives will be transformed.
  8. Leaders get emotional about the need and about their donors when they tell stories about what they do.

We know that leaders can change. We have personally walked with many of them and have seen it firsthand. It’s not easy. For those who can’t change, they will have to pass the mantle off to those who embrace donors as a part of the mission… or risk jeopardizing their organization.  Yes, it’s that serious.
If you are a non-profit leader reading this today, we thank you for the hard work you do, and we urge you to see your donors as part of your overall mission. It will dramatically change your organization.