September 12, 2018

As nonprofit organizations rely on financial donations as their primary source of funding, so too must they rely on their Chief Executive Officers (CEO) to be their primary fundraiser.

For a nonprofit organization to reach its full fundraising potential, its CEO must understand the role of fundraising and be a true partner to the development team in the fundraising process.

As development professionals it can be difficult to know how to effectively engage your CEO in your fundraising activities and goals. In this blog post, I’ve shared  7 strategies for doing just that and provided an example of how this has worked for me in the past.

What is the CEO’s role in fundraising?

I like to think of CEOs as Networkers in Chief. Usually, they have reached the position of CEO after years spent at various management levels in their industries, and they are almost always very connected in their field.  In addition to being Chief Executive Officer, the CEO is also chief strategic thinker, thought leader of the company and advocate for the organizational vision of a better world. The CEO manages, inspires and excites the board, staff, and donors about the mission and the work of the nonprofit. Community leaders, business leaders, and stakeholders will look to the CEO to set the tone for the organization.  Because of the role the CEO plays, he/she will have access to the highest level of leadership in the community which is critical for spreading the organization’s message and building relationships that can lead to significant financial support.

The Development Director/CEO Relationship

It is the job of the development professional to not only explain to the CEO as to why he/she needs to be a fundraising partner but to help him/her understand how powerful a role he/she can play. Development professionals need to work to understand their CEO’s strengths so that they can leverage those strengths in the fundraising process. They also need to work with the CEO closely to understand his/her working style and limitations.

Strategies for Leveraging your Networker in Chief:

I lean on seven tools when encouraging CEOs to be more engaged in the fundraising process:

  1. Create a strategic fundraising plan. Provide the CEO with a simple, thoughtful, strategic fundraising plan and review it with him/her so they understand the goals and deliverables
  2. 2. Hold strategy sessions. Set time aside to speak to the CEO about the fundraising process and explain what his/her role is.
  3. Set calendar appointments to review contacts. Set up scheduled meetings with the CEO to review his/her network of colleagues and friends. This is the beginning of a major gift donor prospect list.
  4. Share success stories. Share stories of other nonprofit CEO’s achieving fundraising success.
  5. Have coaching sessions. Make sure the CEO is comfortable asking donors for money and knows how to do it properly. Do role-playing exercises. Help the CEO feel good about his/her role in the ask.
  6. Utilize the CEO’s strengths. If the CEO is a great writer, ask him/her to partner with you in writing a targeted appeal letter or white paper. If he/she is better at speaking publicly have him/her shoot an appeal video to use for social media posts.
  7. Lead. Don’t be afraid to tell the CEO to get back on track and hold him/her accountable to a promise. CEOs want development staff to hold them accountable. It is usually the development professional who is uncomfortable playing this role, but that must be overcome to achieve success. A CEO is waiting for you to lead them!
Case Study

I had a recent experience working with an Association in which the CEO had access to many high net worth colleagues and friends who I wanted to cultivate as donor prospects.  However, the CEO was very reluctant to reach out to his friend base and ask for money because he felt as if it was a form of begging.

I knew that to get the CEO to open his contact list and start to cultivate his network that we’d have to come up with a specific strategic vision. So, I worked with other executive staff members to identify one important programmatic area in which they wanted to raise money for, and we set up a plan to achieve our fundraising goals.  I then set a meeting with our CEO to review our fundraising plan with the specific target.  He started feeling more comfortable with the idea of asking his network of colleagues and friends for money for a specific agenda item rather than money for general organizational support.

After getting to know this CEO’s style and comfort zone, I suggested I reach out to his contacts using his name as an introduction in my email.  He was supportive of this as it took the burden of solicitation away from him and helped me to form relationships of my own with his network.  Once my CEO saw donations from his network of friends and colleagues coming in he felt much more relaxed and confident about fundraising in general.

Laura TuckerLaura Tucker has more than 15 years of nonprofit fundraising experience with an expertise in donor cultivation and major gift development. Laura is a highly creative results-driven development strategist with entrepreneurial passion, drive and vision. Laura has many years of professional experience generating revenue and increasing support bases for expanding national nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Her experience includes executive and volunteer leadership roles particularly in the sciences and public safety sectors. Laura is very comfortable working with and re-organizing leadership Boards, gaining corporate philanthropic support and planning and executing consumer driven promotional fundraisers. Given Laura’s background in public relations, she can effectively articulate the mission of the organization she is representing.