Consulting with your Chief Executive

Many of your high net worth major donors will desire a relationship with your chief executive. They inevitably want to talk to the top person to build their confidence that the organisation is in good hands. They perhaps want to know about the overall vision of the organisation and the stability of the finances, just as anyone would if making a significant donation.

As a fundraising executive it is imperative to work closely with your CEO but I would suggest not leaving the chief executive to ‘manage’ the relationship even if they want to do this. Not that your leader wouldn’t do this really well it is just that often leaders are time poor and this is not their top priority which potentially means that regular contact with a prospective donor can easily slip. Finding appropriate ways of achieving a successful working relationship with your CEO can sometimes be problematic and much harder than you think. Don’t wait until a mistake happens to work out the detail of how you are going to work together.

Over the years I have found that taking a business approach to this by setting out an agreed process for working together really works and demonstrates to your chief executive how important it is to maintain consistent relationships with key individuals. This includes guidelines of who is doing what and when. Sounds simple doesn’t it? However without this, donor relationships often fall through the cracks and it can stunt the plan if each is hesitant, assuming the other person is carrying out the next step.

So what should you include in this process? These guidelines can be set out and agreed by both parties and might include:

An agreed  terms of reference
The role of the major gift executive as ‘project manager’
The role of the chief executive
How often you meet
How information is collated, use of a donor contact sheet (or direct to database) and who is responsible within what time frame
How to agree one centralised donor plan
Who maintains the overall contact plan
How to keep the relationship with the prospective donor seamless with defined areas of responsibility
Reference to the donor plan and notes before making contact
How ‘out of plan’ communications will work (for example the donor telephones the CEO)

In my experience it is really important that the major donor executive manages the donor relationship even if the chief executive is the main face of the organisation to the donor. It is more commonly a mixture of the two with the major gift executive having an equally valid relationship with the donor having worked hard at prospecting them in the first instance. However, to not frustrate the prospective donor this requires careful planning and can be covered within the process, for example if a request is made by the donor it is made clear who will fulfil that request. If everyone knows what they are doing and the required expectations, it will certainly make life simpler for both.

I wouldn’t suggest you write the process yourself and take it to your leader for his or her agreement but rather consult first. If you go to the meeting with a prepared process, your CEO may well be impressed and agree to the terms but will have no ownership and because of the every day busyness of life may not adhere to the terms.

You want your leader to own the process and be part of its formation. So start this exercise by brainstorming together with your chief executive what should be included by using questions such as “What are the most important factors for you?”. By asking your chief executive what they consider to be the most important aspects for working together will enable them to see how crucial it is to achieve a joined up relationship for the donor. You can, of course, go to the meeting with some pre-prepared ideas. Then, having consulted, prepare a draft process. If you have agreed the terms together first, the process will reflect the views of both parties and it is more likely to be understood by your leader and bring a successful result. What is your experience?

Ruth Irwin is author of ‘Major Gifts Unwrapped:  39 Principles for the Successful Major donor Fundraiser”

Comment here……….

Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.