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.
Of course, Richard and I have also seen amazing CEOs and Executive Directors who are just waiting on the Development team to lead and manage them to navigate through the major gift waters, yet the Director of Development or the VP of Major Gifts is not using them properly.
Both of these situations are tragic, yet in almost every nonprofit we work with, we see one or the other happening when we start working with them.
There are two truths about major gifts that, if embraced, will lead to your success.
- Leadership has to welcome participating fully in major gift fundraising. This means the CEO or ED, the COO, CFO, CTO… whatever “C” you have in your organization, along with 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 CEO doesn’t like to ask for money or even talk to a donor. They tell us how there is no culture of philanthropy; all the responsibility is all on them to raise money from major donors.
On the flip side, we’ve also sat across the table from many CEOs who are so frustrated with their development team because, “They don’t use me enough in talking to donors.” Or, “I just wish he would tell me what I have to do, because I’m too busy to worry about this every day.”
Both of these types of problems really require two courses of action by the Development Director: leadership and action.
In the area of major gifts, 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 for your organization.
Believe me, the pressure on CEOs and Executive Directors is enormous. They are pulled in many directions that are not even fundraising related. In almost 99% 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, ED and/or Board is waiting on you to lead them!
This means that if your CEO doesn’t embrace major gifts and or understand its value, you have to be the one that helps her “get it.” If she doesn’t understand why a culture of philanthropy is important at your organization, you’re the one to lead her.
In fact many times, as part of the work with do with nonprofits, Development Directors ask us to help them inspire leadership to want to talk to donors. Then we help coach their CEO 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 director.
Then there is the CEO that wants to be led. As a development director or major gift program manager, 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 so, and they regain the trust of the CEO and have successful careers.
Here is how you can lead your CEO:
- Develop an executive caseload for your CEO. You have to be the one that manages it for her, but she needs you to develop the caseload, take the lead on setting goals and developing the communication strategy.
- Set up weekly meetings with the CEO or if you have one already, set aside 20-30 minutes to discuss major donors and your next moves.
- Before events or meetings with donors, hold strategy sessions about individual donors to make sure the CEO knows her role exactly.
- Hold coaching sessions with your CEO. Make sure she is comfortable asking donors for money and how to do it properly. Do role-playing exercises. Help her feel good about her role in “the ask.”
- Lead your CEO. Don’t be afraid to tell her to “get back on track” or hold her accountable to something she said she was going to do. The CEOs that Richard and I talk with want you to hold them accountable. It 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, ED 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 leadership to be successful. And if they are successful, YOU will be successful.