Have you heard the one about the CEO and fundraising?

“Can a nonprofit succeed at raising money without the CEO’s involvement?”

dive_into_a_money_pool_12938So asked a beleaguered development officer in a one-person fundraising shop with multi-staff-sized goals. And he’s not the first (or likely last) of his kind to pose the question. Within small to mid-size nonprofits, understaffed development operations are the norm. Fundraisers are desperate for help from the CEO, but few there be that find it.

In my twenty years on the consulting circuit I’ve listened as hundreds of ministry heads tried to talk their way out of fundraising. Despite differences in organizational settings and missions, the excuses for failing to dive into development are remarkably similar.

If you hear yourself (or the CEO with whom you work, either as staff or a board member) in the following, I’ll hope you’ll bookmark this article.


Excuse 1: “I’ve got my hands full putting out fires. When things settle down I’ll focus on fundraising.”

There will always be issues demanding the leader’s attention.  Such is life. But think about how many of those  “fires” are related to insufficient funds. Fundraising is one of the best fire fighting tools a leader has.

Excuse 2: “I’m not comfortable asking for money. For the organization’s sake, it’s probably better I don’t.”

If fundraising isn’t in your nature, try nurture, beginning with who you hire as your chief development officer. For the organization’s sake, look for the person who will make you a better fundraiser.

Excuse 3: “Isn’t that why we hired staff?”

Bringing on a fundraiser (or two) is great, but it doesn’t get the CEO off the hook for fundraising. If you hire right, you should expect to spend more, not less time fundraising.

Excuse 4: “Isn’t that the board’s role?”

Board members who are ready, able, and resourced for fundraising are a blessing, but that’s not why you have a board. Your board’s raison d’être is to provide the organization with good governance.  Everything else — including involvement in raising funds — is frosting on the cake.

Excuse 5: “We don’t have depth of prospects or donors to make fundraising worth my time.”

Start with the donors already in the pool and swim toward where you think the organization should be. I guarantee there are bigger gifts are just below the surface. You never know who or what you’ll find after getting into the water.

Which brings me back to the question with which this article began: Can a nonprofit succeed at raising money without the CEO’s involvement? Maybe, but not often, and most definitely not at the level your organization needs.

So no more excuses, CEO.  Take the plunge.

For other articles about the CEOs role in fundraising success, see:

Punching up your fundraising program

How to get what you expect (and more) from your fundraising program

Finger pointing doesn’t raise a dime

What's your take on this topic?

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