Fundraising is Not Optional for Chief Executives

If you are a nonprofit CEO or Executive Director, you must make time to personally steward and solicit your donors.

Don’t stop reading! Really.

I know for some of you, fundraising is not why you chose to lead the mission of your organization. For others, you have a fantastic development director, so why not let her lead the way in soliciting donors?

The truth is your title alone positions you to ask in a way that no one else can.

I recently interviewed a prospective donor for a feasibility study. She has children in two different independent schools. I asked her how the fundraising experience was similar or different in the two institutions. She told me that she and her husband had agreed to support the schools equally.

And then . . .

The Head of School from one institution came to visit them. During the visit, he shared his vision and made a very specific solicitation. They gave 5 times what they were planning to give AND 5 times more than they are giving to the other school.

This story is the rule rather than the exception.

If you want your donors to invest deeply in your mission, you as the chief executive must be involved in engaging them in your organizational vision and soliciting them for their investments. The only other position that can be as effective as you is your board chair. The reality is that your board chair is a volunteer and likely cannot carve out as much time as you can for these important conversations. So, by all means, leverage your chair but not in lieu of yourself.

Speaking of time, it is often asked how much time a chief executive should spend on fundraising. The fundraiser in me says, “as much as it takes.” However, the rule of thumb is about 25% of your time in a typical fundraising year and 50% of your time in a season of a capital campaign. So, that means about a day and a quarter every week. Think about that.

Do you spend at least 10 hours per week engaging with donors in stewardship or solicitation? No, Board and committee meetings don’t count. Of course, there is a stewardship component to these sessions, but that is not the primary purpose. I am talking about 10 hours of intentional donor engagement—where engagement is the goal.

If you are not there, I challenge you to consider prioritizing your time in 2023 to include at least 10 hours per week stewarding and soliciting donors. Unless of course, you are content with another organization getting 5 times the investment from your donor.

We reap what we sow.

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