A CEO’s Viewpoint Part 3: How To Make Fundraising a Priority

Gobel Group

CEOs understand well that their most valuable asset is time. As it is, CEOs are already burdened with trying to prioritize so many different challenges and squeeze a few more minutes out of each day. So how does a CEO make more time to devote to fund-raising and philanthropy? I think the short answer is how do you not do that? The longer and more thoughtful answer is to recognize that something must change. That starts with thinking about what responsibilities can a CEO delegate to other members of his/her staff. All CEOs spend time during the day that doesn’t add value. The challenge is to figure out which time that is and spend it on something that truly adds value to your organization. Like fundraising. The other part of the answer is to think about your relationship with your Chief Development Officer (CDO), and together decide what can he/she do to make sure that your time with philanthropic activities is prioritized, focused, and effective.

I believe it is essential to have the organization’s CDO report directly to the CEO. If a CEO is going to make fund-raising and philanthropy a priority for their organization, it cannot be done well if the CDO is reporting to someone else in the organization. And when I say priority, I believe a CEO should be spending 20% of his/her time on philanthropy. Where else can a CEO devote that amount of time to generate the significant ROI a successful philanthropic organization can achieve? The CDO, with his/her knowledge of the community and potential donors, will “guide” the CEO and help maximize the time the CEO has available to meet with key donors. An effective CDO will have many contacts with potential donors and will best understand those critical donors who should be spending time with the CEO. In addition, the CDO should be an active and vibrant part of any leadership team and needs to be seen by the rest of the organization, and the community, as an equal of the COO, CFO, CNO, and CMO in terms of their importance to the organization. Most importantly, a CEO needs to build trust and mutual respect with their CDO, as they would with any other relationship that is important to them or their organization.

It is a given that anything important and therefore a priority to an organization has to be managed effectively. At the same time we also know that we cannot manage something effectively unless we have a way to measure it. Just like infection prevention, patient satisfaction, or a budget, philanthropy has its own set of metrics that must be utilized and monitored. And most importantly, like anything else that is measured, someone must be personally responsible for achieving those metrics. For example, these are some of the metrics that are critical to the success of any organization that is committed to philanthropic success:

  • Number of budgeted solicitations
  • Dollar amount of budgeted solicitations
  • Number of closed gifts
  • Dollar value of closed gifts
  • Number of solicitations still to come
  • Dollar amount of solicitations still to come

Another comment I have heard from CEOs is that “I am not comfortable” asking people for money. I get that. Not everyone is comfortable asking someone else for money. However, sometimes you don’t really know whether or not you are comfortable with that because you’ve never done it. We are constantly pushing our executive teams to get outside their comfort zone to learn new skills, to have crucial conversations, or to look at their world differently than they have in the past. So how can you expect your team members to do that if you are not willing to challenge yourself to try something new? Lastly, if you have a good relationship with your CDO, they can help you get comfortable with “making the ask.”

The wonderful thing about your CDO, is that he/she is comfortable asking someone for money if you are not. As a leader, your job in fundraising can be to discuss with donors the things you are comfortable with…how your hospital or health system is performing, the new programs or innovations you are bringing to your community, and the amazing things your physicians, nurses, and other staff are doing each and every day to care for your community. And when it comes time for the ask, your CDO can make that request. The CEOs role in fundraising will no doubt increase the bottom-line, increase the relationships and partnerships in the community, and be that person that wealthy donors in your community want to meet, because the CEO recognizes the significant value in philanthropy and the important role that wealthy individuals in the community can play in the overall success of the organization.

Again…where else can a CEO spend 20% of their time and see a $1M addition to the hospital’s bottom line in any given week? There is no internal meeting that could deliver that kind of influence and impact on your organization. However, a strategic lunch or dinner, sharing the vision of your organization, or an informal meeting with key philanthropic leaders can and will make that financial difference. And last but not least, the rewards to the CEO and their organization are really priceless. Every CEO strives to make a difference in the communities they serve, and philanthropy offers the potential to do that every time a CEO meets with someone influential in his/her community.

Let me know if I can help you with this challenge….your personal investment of your leadership, time, and vision into fundraising will be rewarding to not only your organization, but to you personally.

This series of articles is written by Jeff Fried, Executive Consultant for Gobel Group and former President and CEO of Beebe Healthcare.