If I didn’t know it before, I sure knew it later. Seventeen years as a university president convinced me I couldn’t do it all-and I’d fall on my nose if I tried.
That’s a leadership lesson in humility that’s universally applicable. But it’s especially true in Development.
As they used to say in the Old West, I needed a Chief Development Officer “to ride the river with.” Back then they weren’t just talking about a companion. They were talking about a trusted partner that “had your back.”
The CEO/CDO relationship is different from any other in a nonprofit organization. This fact doesn’t diminish the CEO’s relationship with the CFO or other officers. It just recognizes that CEOs and CDOs-if they’re successful fundraisers-spend an inordinate amount of time together and they better be singing off the same page.
I tried to orient each of the CDOs with whom I was privileged to serve. Basically, I wanted a teammate, not an independent contractor. I needed a CDO committed to the mission who was a good communicator and crazy about raising money. But I needed the CDO to understand a few other things, too.
I needed my CDO to understand that as a CEO I lived with huge pressure on my time. My calendar could fill up with every conceivable issue, except Development, without me lifting a finger to make it so. This happened because people wanted to see the CEO, believing their issue is apriori. This is true for everyone except major donors.
Major donors don’t typically call the CEO and ask for time on the calendar so they can give you a six figure gift. A few good stories bear witness that this glorious event has occurred, but who can count on it? I always wanted to spend more time on Development, but the competition for my time was a tyranny that always threatened my good intentions.
The CDO needs to grasp this fact-of-life for CEOs and vie for time on their schedules. CDOs, we need you to help us get up-and-out of the organization. Get us into the marketplace.
I needed my CDO to construct a Development Plan that would fund the goals and initiatives in our strategic plan. I had to be involved, of course, but I needed the CDO to lead the charge. Consider some creative solutions and put the first draft in print. Don’t wait on me. Be proactive.
I needed my CDO to qualify potential donors. By all means put people on my calendar. But to put it crassly, introduce me to people who are worth my time. When I periodically put pressure on my CDOs for more appointments on my calendar they sometimes responded with a flurry of warm bodies. No, set me up with the right people, i.e. people with the capacity to give larger gifts.
I needed my CDO to avoid perpetually entertaining a prospect and make the ask. Romance is important in the relationship but sooner or later you’ve got to put a request in front of our friends. Otherwise, you’re not raising funds. You’re just spending money on lunches, golf, gifts, airfare, etc. Set an example for the Development staff in your own productivity. Be hospitable and profitable.
I needed the CDO to help me make new contacts. If we weren’t adding new names to our list we weren’t growing. Actually, we weren’t even standing still because current donors die, move away, lose their jobs, develop other interests, run out of money, and more. If old friends are the backbone of a nonprofit new friends are its lifeblood.
I needed my CDO to manage Development Department personnel. CDOs should inspect what they expect, provide incentives, hold staff accountable, and monitor staff presentations, not just their busyness.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I needed the CDO to represent the organization with integrity in a manner that built trust, reinforced our reputation, and supported my leadership. I got burned once and I learned the hard way. CDOs who speak positively inside and negatively outside violate the most basic of professional ethics. A CDO is supposed “to develop,” “to advance” the organization, not tear down it or the CEO. CDOs that represent their nonprofit and their CEO well are a credit to their organization, to their profession, and to themselves.
I’ve used the word “I” a lot in this piece, but my experience as a longtime nonprofit CEO wasn’t unique. Nonprofit CEOs need CDOs to ride the river with.