Seven Areas an Executive Director or CEO can Focus on for Success

Lately I have been getting calls from people who are starting in a new leadership position as CEO or Executive Director of a social sector organization.  Typically these organizations are called “nonprofits”, but l am purposely reframing this label to “social sector organizations” to better reflect the true bottom line work of social change and community betterment with our communities and people’s lives changing as the ‘profit’.  Many people are coming into this sector from the ‘for profit’ arena and are unsure about what they should focus on to be successful in fundraising.  Here are the tips I have been offering that may be of help for all social sector leaders – new and long serving.  As I put these thoughts together, I realized that these suggestions are relevant for both for profit and social sectors – only the language changes from funds/donors to sales/customers!

  1. Embrace relationship building. This is the crux of good fundraising – getting out of the office and being with people. Listening and asking for input on why they value the work of the organization.
  2. Assess your own prosperity work. I strongly believe that people who are out engaging with people to give to a charitable endeavor are more successful when they have addressed their own relationship with money.  Be sure to examine your own class background and your own beliefs about legacy and where and how you give so you can have an honest, transparent conversation with people with all types of resources.
  3. Create a top 100 list.  The database is the organization’s biggest asset.  Spend time reviewing lists and asking questions about how queries are done and what groupings have been identified in order to cull the top people so you will be able to focus your stewardship and relationship building efforts. 
  4. Answer the questions, “Why you?” and “Why now?”  Your story, especially for new leaders, is critical for donors to hear.  Why did you take the position, what are your ideas for honoring the current work and/or transitioning the organization into its 2.0 or 3.0 version.  Being able to articulate what the urgency of the organization’s work and what will be different with  gifts that range from X to Y is critical.
  5. Get testimonials from funders. Invite institutional funders and donors to write a note of support or testimonial to build credibility as a new leader and to build potential support.  Use these with proposals, on the web site or on case statements to demonstrate the breadth of the organization’s support and the reason others associate with the organization.  
  6. Build your ‘posse’. Find people who you respect, who you can be honest and transparent with and with whom you can confide for personal support and reactions to your ideas. 
  7. Be patient. Know that building your dream team takes time.  Whether it is your Board or your senior management team, it will take time to get the right people and have them click together.