Fundraise? No Thanks… The Challenge of Non-Profit Leadership

9 06 2011


What if no one will lead?  Recently the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that an institution in Yankton, South Dakota had finally secured a president after three tries!  First of all congrats to the college, but one issue that was identified as part of that story was the refusal of many potential non-profit leaders around the country to step into a leadership role because of fundraising responsibilities or expectations. This is not news to many veteran fundraisers who have had to poke, prod and coax (perhaps even threaten) their CEO to engage with donors and prospects.

In fairness, fundraising has become a much higher priority on many non-profit leaders’ job descriptions.  Fundraising may not have appeared on a university president’s job description 20 years ago, it is now often in the top three. Hospital fundraising is seeing the role of the CEO as much more integral and they also need the physicians to help strengthen grateful patient efforts. Boards have increasing expectations that leaders are not only willing to fundraise, but that they need to be good at it.

Our non-profits shouldn’t lose great potential leaders because of fundraising.  We need to be prepared to encourage individuals who are passionate about our missions that they can lead them and be successful at fundraising.  Some things to think about strengthening your leader’s role in philanthropy:

1)      Natural Partners – Involve other institutional leaders as natural partners in development work.  These are physicians, faculty members, curators, etc.  We should involve them in their passion and let them see that fundraising work is not just schmoozing and “begging” for dollars. Hopefully we involve them earlier in their careers.

2)      On-boarding – When we hire new CEOs, we should have on-boarding plans in place that make development roles easier and immediately helps them overcome barriers to being a good fundraiser. A good plan includes such items as briefing books on lead donors/prospects, introductory events to key constituents, and assigned hosts as community events.

3)      Education – We need to continue to educate our non-fundraising partners (CEOs, deans, physicians, executive directors). There are many great programs, CASE hosts its “Deans in Development” the American Bar Association does training for its new deans.  We must continue to expose our leaders to these types of programs.

4)      Staffing – Let’s give these reluctant leaders every chance to be successful.  Understand their personalities, what type of situations can they not succeed in?  Are we providing them with the information (in a manner suited to them) to inform decisions? Finally, are we partnering to develop a clear cultivation strategy?

We need willing partners to make them successful.  As it becomes clearer that fundraising is a critical component of their role, we must be ready to make them successful.

Good Luck!  – Mark




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