Almost all executive directors hate to do fundraising. It’s a fact of nonprofit life. Frankly, there are good reasons for this and we shouldn’t get too annoyed with them:
1. Most executive directors are hired because they are superb program people. They know the mission and can direct the staff in doing a great job.
2. There is not much training on “How to be an executive director.” It tends to come in chunks at seminars and conferences – similar to training for fundraising.
3. They are so busy juggling so many balls in the air at one time that they cannot avail themselves of the fundraising training that might be available.
4. While executive directors often look to the board of directors for help in raising money, the board tends to look at the executive director and use most of their time and care in judging what kind of job the executive director is doing. Too often they point their fingers at each other (behind their backs!).
OK, so what to do? It seems to me that good executive directors and board leaders establish a trust level that allows them to maximize strengths while minimizing weaknesses. This is easier said than done, but if contracts are written carefully and evaluations are done fairly, then many of the problems can be alleviated or, at least, understood.
However, there are a few things in life that have one main way to do them. This is true in this case. If your executive director hates fundraising, and the board understands that, the best way to address this challenge is to bring in an outside consultant to do an analysis and develop a plan. Obviously, this is not the cheapest option, but it is by far the most effective and it is better to do this up front rather than wait until everyone is frustrated and pointing fingers.
The key is to find a person who is a real fundraiser to do the consultation. Many consultants say they are sufficiently able but have experience only in one or two of the five types of fundraising. Ginger Keller-Ferguson or I will be glad to help you find the right person. Call Ginger at 423-406-2907 or me at 828-691-6135.
For between $2500 and $5000, a knowledgeable consultant will find out exactly what the executive director can do, what other staff can do, and how helpful the board is willing to be. Then the consultant will look at the five major kinds of fundraising and figure out a plan to move you to your next goal.
Beyond that step, here are some other tips:
1. State in all board member letters of agreement that “fiduciary responsibility” means both ensuring accuracy and accountability of the nonprofit spending as well as the raising of sufficient resources for the agency.
2. State in the executive director’s contract that they are responsible for ensuring that there is a plan and process for raising sufficient revenues for the agency.
3. Put resources in the budget for the executive director to attend fundraising training several times a year.
4. Hire a part-time director of development when the budget reaches $250,000 and make it full-time at $400,000, if not earlier.
5. If the executive director is not able to do much fundraising, then more staff resources will need to be put into the director of development and other supporting staff. Have this be an open discussion in board meetings. Even if the executive director goes to trainings, tries to do it, and cannot succeed, discuss it openly in front of the executive director. (If it is in the contract, it should be a joint challenge.) At the same time, be understanding if the executive director can do no more than take a donor to lunch and accept a check.
6. Keep expectations reasonable. If the agency suddenly loses $250,000 in federal funding, the executive director cannot simply go to major donors and get it from them. A new special event cannot produce that in the first year. A new thrift store cannot net that in the first six months. Remember this is a business – indeed, the IRS says it is a not-for-profit business.
7. DO NOT PANIC. Work together to find solutions, do not just jump on the executive director.
8. Once again, I suggest you hire an outside expert to help you as soon as you realize the executive director cannot meet board expectations.
As a professional fundraiser for 31 years, I am saying that I feel for executive directors who hate fundraising. Everyone in an agency needs to work together to solve this issue. But you CAN move to the next level.
Alex Comfort, CFRE