Help Your CEO Help You … With Fundraising

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

I’ve often written and spoken about the need for the nonprofit CEO to be fundraiser-in-chief.

While I still firmly believe this to be true, it’s important to remember that the CEO does not work in isolation and the development team plays a critical role in the CEO’s fundraising success. Moreover, development staff must take an active role in driving the development efforts, including the CEO’s involvement.

If you want your CEO to do more in fundraising, help her help you.

Here are my tips for doing just that:

  • Create and share a fundraising plan with assignments, deadlines, and metrics. Show your CEO how you can achieve the organization’s financial goals together. Ensure you are in agreement with regards to what she is willing and able to take on.
  • Take the initiative. Don’t wait for your CEO to suggest prospects, prioritize activities, or craft messaging. As much as you are able, try to move things forward on your own, then prep and inform him when it’s time to act.
  • Don’t assume the CEO is trained in soliciting a gift or comfortable doing it. CEOs have many skills but cultivating and soliciting gifts may not be their best talent. Consider how you can help build philanthropic intelligence or hire outside counsel to provide training.
  • Be a coach and a cheerleader. Offer advice to your CEO on approaching donors and congratulate her on fundraising successes. Even CEOs like to hear praise!
  • Prepare the CEO well. Anticipate your CEO’s needs when engaging with a donor. Does he need talking points? Details about specific programs? Provide comprehensive pre-meeting prep to achieve better outcomes.
  • Respect your CEO’s time. CEOs wear many hats, and development is only one of them. Use her time well by focusing her attention on the major plays and decisions.
  • Build on what your CEO likes to do. There is no getting around the need for face-to-face meetings when raising major gifts. But some CEOs are particularly good at making calls, emailing personal notes, sending handwritten letters, or hosting webinars. Take advantage of what your CEO does well as a communicator or leader and focus on what gives him energy to further cultivate major or prospective donors.
  • Set time on your CEO’s calendar. Establish a brief time each week to catch up on immediate development tasks. Also schedule longer quarterly meetings to review the bigger picture strategy, messaging, and goals.
  • Ask for help. Be clear when you need help with reaching a prospective donor or engaging the board in development activity. Hopefully your CEO trusts your work and assumes you have things in-hand; if you need her help, be clear.

In an ideal world, the nonprofit CEO would be a fundraising machine. In reality, most CEOs develop and improve fundraising skills over time. The director of development and the development team are essential in helping the CEO become fundraiser-in-chief, which is essential for fundraising success.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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