Is Your Nonprofit Chief Executive An Effective Fund Raiser?

Is Your Nonprofit Chief Executive An Effective Fund Raiser?

By Eugene Fram

In the past, many nonprofit chief executives, whether they be executive directors or president/CEOs, did not have fund raising responsibilities. They were considered mission specialists by their boards. These specialists did not have enough higher-level community contacts or were not aggressive enough to seek development assets. In addition, many of these mission specialists clearly did not want these types of responsibilities. One remarked, “All I want to do is to give the board the alternatives in a situation. They need to make the final decision.”

This organizational format probably emanated from religious organizations where the clerical or lay leaders were not considered “wordily” people, and the board directors or trustees needed to handle financial or similar types of decisions. Culture changes slowly, and I sense from discussions with directors this format substantially prevails in smaller or growing nonprofit organizations. In fact, to the detriment of many nonprofit, it prevails long after it should.

Today the nonprofit chief executive needs to be a working partner with the board, acting as a development “scout” in two directions.

First, he or she probably has better overall understanding of organization’s area of expertise than most of the volunteer directors. Consequently, the chief executive is in a better position to alert the board on disruptive changes taking place and highlight potential funding opportunities available at national and regional sources. Together, the board and chief executive are in the best position to plan for disruptions and to aggressively seek funding opportunities. This applies to human support organizations as well as trade associations, where the board is composed of people with field experience.

Second, the nonprofit chief executive needs to assume a substantial responsibility for seeking funds in these turbulent times. This means the person, in addition to management duties, has a responsibility to make sure that the development effort is moving with all deliberate speed. The chief executive must devote time to the effort, even if a full time development director is in place, and make sure that all involved are on the same page.

I recently talked with a woman whose board has changed her title from “executive director to president/CEO.” She readily acknowledged what the change means in terms of an expanded development responsibility and acknowledged the challenges ahead. In the 21st century, more nonprofit chief executives need to be as ready as she is.

Source: “Policy vs. Paper Clips,” Third Edition, 2011. Available on

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