Top fundraising CEOs with whom we have had the honor of working have the ability to endear themselves to those who have capacity to make their institution’s dreams come true, are capable of articulating the vision for the institution to a variety of audiences, and spend a majority of their time doing these two things. Read on to see if these essential CEO characteristics are present at your organization or as a frame for a potential new hire in the “number two” position for your organization.
The CEO is the voice, the visionary, the leader and the face of the institution and thrives in this role. They are the ones in whom major donors/funders give their trust. The CEO is who a donor considers before making a significant gift. A top notch Chief Development Officer* (CDO) knows when and how to use the CEO’s time for the greatest return. The CEO motivates the Board members to be personally involved in fundraising and acts as a negotiator between Board and staff.
The CDO spends considerable time working with development staff, CEO assistant or Board assistant, volunteers, Board members and donor connectors to do the following tasks as they relate to major gifts work: planning and organizing, strategizing about prospects and calendar, setting goals and priorities, and learning about new and current donors through conversations and reviewing background information. The CDO is seeking always to put the President/Chair, the CEO, and key leadership in positions and conversations with donors for a win. The CDO's goal is to be so well prepared that the best suited leadership member (CEO, CDO, volunteer, Chair or combination) makes the right ask of the right person for the right project at the right time. The CDO and CEO work in close partnership to raise funds.
A successful fundraising organization has the CEO and CDO spending a lot of time together building a strong and respected partnership. Both parties share a joint commitment to the relentless pursuit of people who can help the institution. The CEO and CDO share a joint ownership of problems and goals, a joint ownership of relationships, and a joint ownership of success. This can only successfully occur through trust and constant honest communication. The CDO is always lobbying and fighting for the priority share of the CEO time and knows that when she gets it that she can't blow it! A good CDO has familiarity with the strengths, comforts, and places a CEO ‘shines’ and plays to these settings. The CDO demonstrates loyalty, dedication, and confidentiality and offers ongoing relationship building and learning opportunities for volunteers.
There should be a disciplined schedule where the CDO and CEO meet each week to talk about the past, present, and future of relationships with donors and funders. Time is spent reviewing meetings, stewardship plans, and discussing updates on donors. Calendars are reviewed and a “top 25” visit schedule of recommendations are discussed. Challenges for re-engaging donors or funders are discussed. From there the CDO reviews the calendar daily and ensures the CEO’s assistant feels comfortable with all the meeting and conversation details to serve the donor and provide success for the CEO. The CDO also works throughout the organization and with volunteers to ‘stop and celebrate’ the wins and keeps the team motivated between wins. As issues come up with donors a good CDO is quick on her feet to present solutions and/or knows how to ask the right questions to move the relationship forward. The CDO is also responsible for ongoing communication to the CEO and Chair/President including sending reports via e-mail of gifts that come in and suggesting donors to thank or call with scripts that make it easy for the leadership to act and say just the right thing.
*Chief Development Officer refers to the top development person in the organization who may or may not have this title
This article was written in collaboration with the smart fundraising expert Debra Minton, Founder of Philanthropia Partners and is a salute to one of the best fundraising CEO’s, Dr. Donna Lopiano and the successful partnership we had at the Women's Sports Foundation