Last month, we examined the top skills your CEO needs in a development officer. These skills were emphasized by nonprofit CEOs in a survey we did among our clients. We also asked for some blunt feedback on what frustrates CEOs the most in working with the Chief Development Officer.
Here are the Top 5 frustrations:
1) Inability to formulate, implement and modify a fundraising plan. CEOs are worried that this year’s fundraising is a repeat of the same things we did last year with the hope of doing better. Instead, they want to see plans for diversified funding, milestones and goals, and to review reports tracking the organization’s progress. They expect you to analyze your work to determine if your strategies are succeeding.
I naturally assumed that a Development Director I frequently saw at professional fundraising training meetings was putting into action all the best practices she had been learning. But, when our firm was hired to create a strategic development plan for her nonprofit, we discovered quite the opposite. Much of what we think of as standard best processes was not in place, especially focused on donor retention and stewardship. Unfortunately I routinely hear that 25% of nonprofits have no written fundraising plan. So, based on this feedback from CEOs, wise fundraisers will write down your plans and track your progress monthly.
2) A lack of action. How much time are you spending behind your desk? Have you heard the saying that, “Unless you have a safe behind your desk, you probably won’t find any money there?” At some point, we have to get out of the office to where the donors are. I asked CEOs how much time they expect their Development Directors to be out of the office, making calls and conducting visits. The CEOS I polled –55%–said they expect the key development staff member to be out of the office 25%-40% of the time.
You have to find the correct amount of time out of the office that works for you. And you have to ensure your CEO knows that you have specific goals for a target number of visits per month whether cultivation, solicitation or stewardship. One way to make sure your CEO knows is to take him or her with you! When I see a decline in contributions to a nonprofit, one of my first questions is, “How many visits did you make this year compared to last year?”
3) Poor writing and presenting. We have to convey enthusiasm and passion for our work. There will be many times you have to be the inspirational motivator. In my first job at a small college, one of my responsibilities was to train alumni to do Phonathon calls. My boss asked me to present the full training to her and frankly, I was very weak. But, by the end of a season of traveling the country, my Phonathon training was pretty good. If presenting is not a strength for you, find a way to improve your skills. Likewise, if your writing cannot convey the case for giving in an emotional and concise way, it may spell trouble. Combining emotion and logic is at the core of all our writing. Don’t forget to tell stories about your clients whenever you can.
4) Inability to interpret financial data & giving trends. Many of us came to fundraising through a path that did not involve accounting classes or business school. My history degree, coupled with the useful French and English minors, did not adequately prepare me to understand financial statements or master the use of Excel spreadsheets. If you need to ask the CFO to help you understand the financial statements, do it now. Equally as important, your CEO wants you to interpret current giving data to make good decisions. How much does it cost you to raise a dollar? Do you know your most efficient fundraising methods and your least? James Greenfield’s book Fundraising Cost Effectiveness is a great tool to answer these questions. Further, you’re expected to understand how what happens nationally will affect your nonprofit’s giving trends. Are you reading the Chronicle of Philanthropy and your local Business Journal regularly?
5) Overpromise and under-deliver. We would never do this, right? Yet our CEOs are frustrated that we do exactly this. We create plans for our department’s performance and our donors have expectations based on benefits at certain gift levels or recognition for sponsorships. We work hard to find a match between the donor’s priorities our nonprofit’s needs. Sometimes, however, the donor’s idea may be completely out in left field and not in our organization’s top five priorities. So, we must stay focused on the priorities as determined by our Board and our CEO. Otherwise, we run the risk of drifting away from our mission and core programs. Being on the same page with our CEO can help protect us from awkward situations.
I hope these thoughts from CEO’s are helpful to you and your organization. When combined with the Top 5 Skills in last month’s newsletter, they could be a great starting point for a conversation with your boss or your development team. Good luck with strengthening that relationship!