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Friday, January 19, 2018

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Becoming the development staff your CEO needs
Mike Bacon, CFRE

June, 2015

The Houston Chapter of AFP recently invited me to speak on the special relationship fundraisers have with our bosses.   This is a topic that has always fascinated me, primarily because I have seen situations where it has worked beautifully and I’ve seen “epic fails” (as my 8 year old would call it).

To prepare for my presentation, I surveyed key CEOs and Executive Directors among our clients.   I asked for honest feedback on what helps make the relationship with their fundraisers work and what causes them the most frustration.

Over the next few months, I will share parts of the presentation.   This topic is incredibly important because one of the top reasons why fundraisers fail in their jobs is the relationship and bond with their supervisor.   That interaction is critical to fundraising success!

Here are the top five skills the nonprofit CEOs are looking for in their chief fundraisers:

1) You must be a leader, not a tactician.   A leader initiates ideas based on expertise in the field. You develop plans; engage the CEO and the Board in implementing those plans; and find opportunities to improve. You are the voice for development in your nonprofit. I recall working with a Development Director who was far more comfortable with behind-the-scenes work than donor interaction. You would see her at the check-in table, but not circulating among her organization’s donors and prospects. Instead of providing expertise in Development Committee meetings, she would ask her volunteers what they wanted to do. She followed directions instead of giving her expert opinion on what should happen next. As you can guess, she did not last long. Her boss expected her to be the one with the plan, not just follow a plan.

2) You must be both a strategic and a creative thinker. One CEO told me that she wants a Development Director who has the ability to see around corners. She wants someone who knows what’s ahead for fundraising. Strategic means making good choices with limited options and resources. What’s the best use of your time, your CEO’s time, the Board’s time? Creative means finding innovative ways to move your fundraising to the next level, focusing on face-to-face asks with donors most likely not to renew their gifts or designing an on-line giving challenge to create urgency and excitement.

3) You must have strong relational people skills. . A great development officer listens to prospects and then creates a strategy for an appropriate ask. I know a planned giving officer who is a superb listener and takes great notes. She never fails to follow up on a question raised by a prospect during a meeting. She may even send a related article about a topic discussed. She remembers details and is genuinely interested. She connects with her donors about ideas that are not just related to her nonprofit.

4) You must be determined and persistent. Getting meetings with prospects can be challenging. Yet we must stay focused on cultivation. We know that fundraising is not pulling rabbits out of hats but rather, a series of steps we take with our prospects to better identify their interests and passions. Sometimes it takes dogged determination to get there. One gift officer told me that a prospect finally met with her because he admired her unflagging persistence to get a meeting with him.

5) You must be a multi-tasker with attention to detail. It is no surprise that our Executive Directors rely on us to get it done… fulfilling patron benefits, not forgetting a donor’s name in the script, remembering to meet grant deadlines AND coordinating a luncheon for 30 volunteers… the list goes on. Your job is often a juggling act between competing priorities. The best fundraisers are those who can prioritize, delegate when possible and still have the presence of mind to interact with donors in a meaningful way.

Next week we will share the Top 5 Frustrations CEOs have with fundraising staff. Stay tuned!

Check out Mike at


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