Monday, December 17, 2007

How much does the leadership of an Executive Director or C.E.O. effect fundraising?

The blog Nonprofit Leadership, Innovation, and Change is the host of the December Giving Carnival. Written by Christopher Scott, the blog asks:

"How much does the leadership of an Executive Director or C.E.O. (a)ffect fundraising?"

This begs a deeper question... the answer to which is, itself, the key to successful fundraising.

"Why do donors give money to your non-profit?"

The answer is far different than the answer to "Why do PC users buy Microsoft products?" or "Why do travelers fly on Southwest Airlines?"

While the leadership of CEOs like Bill Gates and Herb Kelleher have greatly influenced the sales of their respective organizations, the reality is that the leadership of CEOs in the for-profit world rarely drives as significant a percentage of overall revenues as the leadership of CEOs in the non-profit sector.

The reason is fairly simple:

The customers of Microsoft are buying a product and the customers of Southwest are buying a service; the donors to your organization are not buying anything.

Why then are people giving you money?

Because they trust you.

Because they love you.

Because, when it all comes down to it, they believe that your CEO is someone more like Jan Pruit from the North Texas Food Bank and not someone like Carl Yeckel, formerly of the Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation.

Would Boone Pickens have donated $6M to Jubilee Park without Ana Maria Narro, the Executive Director, to oversee the administration and use of his funds?

Clearly, Mr. Pickens was also heavily influenced by the organization's chair, his friend Walter Humann, as well as Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who promised revitalization of such areas as Jubileee Park in his run for office.

But as I listened to his remarks at the groundbreaking, I could not help but realize that he was not investing in the bricks and mortar that would occupy the corner of Parry and Bank Street where we stood. Nor was he investing in the plans to operate that center as a source of hope and support for this rebounding community.

He was investing in the leaders who would bring that plan to fruition, and whose spirits would fill that building with life.

The CEO of Central Dallas Ministries, Larry James, has frequently told me:

"Money follows people and ideas."

Mostly, money follows people who can bring those ideas into reality.

Bill Gates and Herb Kelleher are CEOs who have done this in the for-profit world. Jan Pruitt and Larry James are CEOs who have done this in the non-profit world without the benefit of revolutionary technology or favorable market conditions.

I think that every non-profiteer -- particularly those in the CEO role -- should read "Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great" by author Jim Collins. In the book, Mr. Collins argues that "true leadership is more prevalent" in the non-profit sector than in the business sector for these same reasons.

There are few things that can have a greater effect on fundraising than the leadership of a CEO. If your CEO doesn't get this, I'd suggest you have three options: