Menu Close

Leadership is Key to Successful Fundraising

Leadership is essential for successful fundraising and must come from volunteer, executive, and advancement leaders.

The impact of new board members and leadership on a nonprofit organization (NPO) can be immediate and significant. That’s why your governance committee must take great care with your organization’s leadership continuity planning.

When considering new leadership, there are many important variables to consider and prioritize, such as the nominee’s professional expertise, communication skills, financial resources, professional and personal contacts, time availability, and leadership qualities. However, the most important characteristics for success may be the nominee’s enthusiasm and dedication to the NPO mission.

A True Story

This story illustrates the importance of choosing a leader who is passionate about the organization’s mission. A prominent cultural organization had a relatively new trustee quickly ascend to the chair of the board. This new chair had special skills in negotiating big deals and also happened to be quite wealthy. Professionally, she was at the top of the financial services food chain. The executive director’s strategy was successful, and the new chair was helpful in landing a significant business relationship for the NPO.

At the same time, the organization was preparing for the launch of its largest campaign to date. Through the course of interviews, it became clear that key constituents were awaiting news on the chair’s gift to the campaign to help set the bar and truly ignite the effort. However, it became clear that the chair had great enthusiasm for deal-making for the NPO but had minimal passion for the organization’s mission-related programs.

After many weeks of avoiding the issue, the executive director was finally able to have a substantive conversation with the chair about her anticipated campaign gift. And the results? Disappointing at best. Although she had capacity, organizational authority, and a challenge from another board member offering to match her gift up to $5 million, the chair committed to only $500,000 – 10% of what was hoped for. She explained that she and her family were “tapped out” from other recent gifts that would result in the naming of buildings on the campuses of two prominent universities.

Because of the significantly less-than-expected gift and challenge match totals, the overall goal of the campaign had to be lowered. As a result, the scope of services offered to the community – as defined by the NPO’s campaign objectives – were greatly reduced.

Lessons Learned

  1. Do not assign gift expectations based solely on the donor’s wealth and status in the organization.
  2. Executive directors need to have a trusting and authentic relationship with board leaders.
  3. Be aware that wealthy donors often have many causes, and as a result, timing plays a big role in philanthropy outcomes.