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The Nonprofit CEO: Fundraising and Engaging the Board

November 17, 2014

Supporting the board, engaging it in planning, and leading the fundraising of the organization are three of the most important responsibilities of any nonprofit chief executive officer.

While it's the responsibility of the board to govern the organization, the board can't really do its job without support from the staff in creating agendas for meetings, providing information, managing committees and task forces, and conducting the necessary research to properly inform the board before it makes decisions. All of this takes an incredible amount of staff time and coordination, and it's the responsibility of the CEO to make sure that the board is operating at full capacity.

In the Moyers book that we've been exploring for the past two weeks, he references a book by Robert Herman and Richard Heimovics that describes a set of behaviors for CEOs to follow in his or her work with the board. These include:

  • Initiate and maintain a structure for board work.
  • Work in close partnership with the board chair to plan efficient and productive meetings.
  • Show consideration and respect to board members and facilitate interaction in board relationships.
  • Provide helpful and useful information to the board.
  • Promote board accomplishments and productivity.
  • Envision change and innovation with the board.

When I was a nonprofit chief executive, a considerable amount of my time was spent working with the board - in preparation for board and committee meetings, fundraising and strategic planning - which brings us to the second area of responsibility this week: engaging the board in planning and leading the implementation of those plans.

Moyers asserts that one of the most important governance responsibilities shared by the board and chief executive officer is ensuring that the organization has a solid plan for the future, which may mean periodically revisiting the organization's mission, making decisions about priorities for the future, ensuring that the organization's activities are aligned with the mission, and understanding the financial implications of any plans. The CEO's role should include:

  • Recognizing the need for planning.
  • Deciding how the board will participate.
  • Making planning a priority and allocating adequate resources to it.
  • Giving the board some things to decide.
  • Creating mechanisms for implementation and monitoring progress.

All of these roles depend on the organization having adequate resources to fulfill its plans and to secure its future. Accordingly, leading the organization's fundraising has become one of the most critical and time-consuming parts of any nonprofit CEOs job. Moyers says that perhaps no other area of a nonprofit CEO's job causes "more anxiety, hand wringing, and buck passing" than fundraising.

This is also true for many members of a nonprofit board of directors. In fact, one study I saw a few years ago showed that 50 percent of nonprofit board members found fundraising to be "distasteful" and 75 percent said that they would participate in fundraising if they had to, but they wouldn't enjoy it! But, nonprofit CEOs are often placed in the position of both motivating the board to fundraise and monitoring whether the board members have given themselves. It can be a thankless job.

Nonetheless, donors and potential donors often want to speak to the CEO, and it's typically the CEO who is in the best position to speak on behalf of the organization and its programs as well as to make commitments for the future. The old adage that "people give to people" is especially true when it comes to the involvement of the CEO in fundraising.

If you have a question or comment, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and let's start a conversation there.

Next week: Ensuring Accountability and Leadership


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