Recently, I was at a fundraising workshop in Richmond, Virginia. We were hosted by the local PBS station and 100 non-profit executive directors and development directors were in attendance.
To welcome everyone, the CEO of the local Richmond PBS station, Curtis Monk, delivered an address that exemplifies the attitude I believe all non-profit CEOs should have toward fundraising. He describes 5 traps CEOs can get themselves into. He agreed to let me share the transcript of his speech. After you read it, if you are a CEO, embrace it. If you are a Development Director, slip it under your boss’s door… it’s powerful.
Here is what he had to say that afternoon:

“I suspect we can generally agree that a CEO, due to their position and personal portfolio, can do some things that no one else can do. That’s a good thing – but it must be kept in the proper perspective.
First and foremost, I would tell you that, regardless of what it may say on the organization chart, when it comes to fundraising I work for Development.
Accordingly, Development calls the plays and acts as the quarterback. I am a position player, and it’s important that I understand and carry out my particular role with regard to each play. In our case, plays include…

  • Tours
  • Lunches
  • Saying “thank you”
  • Attending events
  • And a bunch of other interactions with donors and prospects

As I do my part, I am mindful of some traps that are easy for a CEO to fall into…
Trap number one: The “it’s all about me” syndrome. It’s quite possible that the CEO is the face of the organization – and that’s fine. But the CEO has got to recognize that his role must be coordinated with everyone else. To do otherwise can be disruptive and demoralizing.
Also, I personally try to avoid falling back on personal relationships as the basis for organizational support. In order to foster long-term success, the focus must be on the benefits of the organization – because I won’t be here forever.
Trap number two: The “I’m very important and very busy” syndrome. Over 65% of our revenue comes from community support, and that’s pretty important. I believe that it is critical for the CEO to be frequently and predictably available, so that Development can use them in an appropriate fashion. Lack of availability effectively neutralizes any advantage the CEO can bring to the table.
I don’t have an Administrative Assistant. In this age of computers and electronic calendars, I just can’t justify allocating our scarce resources for that purpose. Don’t get me wrong, good Administrative Assistants are worth their weight in gold but, in their quest to make the CEO’s life easier, they can inadvertently act as firewalls and that’s dangerous. I’m always amused when I call and have the following conversation:
Me: May I speak with CEO?
AA: I’m not sure whether CEO is available
AA: May I ask who’s calling?
Me: Curtis Monk
AA: Let me see if CEO is here
Just hope I’m not a Major Donor…
Corollary to Trap number two: The “I’m really important and I don’t have time for menial tasks like thank you notes” syndrome…
I consider the handwritten thank note to be a nuclear weapon in my arsenal. The donors we’re courting are being courted by many others, and they most likely support multiple organizations. Consider the donor who contributes $1,000 to three different organizations…

  • One sends a nicely worded, typed thank-you note signed by the CEO
  • The second sends a nicely worded typed thank-you note signed by the CEO and upon which the CEO has taken the time to write a short “we sure appreciate what you do for us” message
  • The third sends a personally addressed handwritten note from the CEO that says thank you and invites the donor in for a tour

When the next giving choice comes around, who do you think the donor will remember the most?
Trap number three: The “No one else can do it as well as I can” syndrome. Some CEOs are really good at interacting with people and at fundraising – and that’s great. But maximizing the fundraising equation requires a team, and it requires as much involvement from as many as possible. I want as many people confident and comfortable with fundraising as possible. There is truly strength in numbers.
Trap number four: The “I’m the CEO and I must be viewed as perfect” syndrome
We all have egos, and many CEOs worry about their image. They honestly believe that, if they admit they were wrong about something, they will lose respect. While that may or may not be true, the fact is that we’re all human, and we’re all subject to error, and we can all improve. I want feedback and, while I may not enjoy it, I appreciate candid input on how to improve. Keep in mind, when it comes to fundraising I’m a position player, and I can certainly benefit from good coaching.
The fifth and final trap is: The “my presence is enough” syndrome…
Every encounter, every appearance, every speech a CEO gives is an opportunity to convey the message that the organization is in good hands and will be a good steward of the funds that it is entrusted with. Accordingly, I owe it to myself and the company to try to do anything exceedingly well. If I am to expect perfection from others, I must require it of myself.
Community support is our lifeblood. Over the course of a year, we have to raise nearly $5 million just to pay the bills. It requires hard work, careful planning, and flawless execution, and I appreciate and respect those who are involved. I also appreciate and respect the reality that success requires a team, and that means knowing the plays and knowing my particular role with regard to those plays.”

This is really powerful stuff coming from a non-profit CEO who “gets” fundraising and what his role is every day. This is real leadership! I hope it inspires you today.