Bridging the Knowledge Gap – 3 Ways to Work with a CEO Who Knows Little About Fundraising

Are you a development staffer, trying to figure out how to work with a CEO or executive director who knows less about fundraising than you do? How can you decrease her stress about fundraising? How can you get her to trust you, buy in to your ideas, and not derail your efforts with her own limited personal experience?

Or maybe YOU are the CEO or executive director, and you’re facing these same challenges when it comes to your board of directors. In either case, finding answers to these questions can be critical to your job success – and at the very least make your job easier.

Fear not! One or all of these ideas may substantially further your cause:

Assess Where You Are

 You cannot effectively determine the best future strategies for our organization without first taking stock of the present situation. This may seem obvious, but pressed-for-time development staff and executive directors are often so focused on the next step, that we don’t bother to learn from the past. An outside consultant can help with this, but it’s also easy to do a quick and dirty version yourself.

First, look at your past two years of data for: total dollars raised, number of donors, number of new donors, donor retention, average gift size, board giving, etc. Then, brainstorm ten bullet points of activities that are working and those that aren’t. Include current challenges you face and under leveraged opportunities.

The most difficult part of this activity will be finding the time and brain-space to sit down and do it!

Another tip: involve your executive director in the activity and encourage her to contribute. This is your first step to getting her real buy-in for your future plans.

Steer Her Toward the Data

In discussions with CEOs and boards—especially boards—I am always surprised at how many of their fundraising suggestions/decisions are based on personal opinion and anecdotal experiences.

“I went to an amazing casino event last weekend—we should do one of those.” “I read an article about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this morning. They sound like great people. I’m sure they would love what we’re doing—let’s write up a grant application ASAP!”

Take every opportunity to educate your CEO with fundraising facts and data. Events are the most expensive way to raise money, typically costing about 50 cents for every dollar raised. An unsolicited grant application sent to the Gates Foundation will likely be returned—they stopped accepting those years ago.

Have your facts and data handy whenever a strategy discussion veers into the murky world of personal opinion. I like Bloomerang’s Fundraising Effectiveness Project as a source of compelling, current data.

Find a Different Messenger

The effectiveness of the outside expert is very real for many CEOs. While her in-house fundraising staff probably has all the answers she’s looking for, she’s not listening to you. Don’t change your message—try finding a different messenger to deliver it.

Do you have any like-minded board members who could talk with her? Your development committee chair? Is there a program staff person or operations leader whom she trusts who also understands your dilemma and wants to help?

Bringing in a fundraising consultant is also an option—just make sure it’s someone who is in line with your way of thinking, and who will maintain open lines of communication with you and your staff as well as the executive director.

What is your experience guiding an executive director on fundraising? Please share your thoughts, tips and advice in the Comments box below!

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