Effective Fundraising Leaders

Note: A recent national study raised serious concerns about the sustainability of current fundraising models. At Benefactor Group, we’ve been reflecting on the study and its implications for our friends in the nonprofit space. We’ll share our thoughts occasionally in Good Words. We devote our first exploration to an essential element of sustainable fundraising: Leadership.

The health of an organization and the success of its fundraising effort begins with leadership. Leaders are aligned with the mission and prepared to devote resources (human, social, political and financial capital) to secure funds and drive the organization forward. Yet the study found that leadership resources are often misaligned: fewer than half of development directors say they have a strong relationship with the CEO, and only 25% of executives are satisfied with board members’ engagement in fundraising.

Effective fundraising leaders come from multiple places: the executive suite, the board room, the development office. All three must work together to promote a healthy culture and build an organization worthy of donors’ investment. In the process, they engulf the entire organization with a culture of philanthropy that exudes gratitude for donors and the funds they provide, and conviction in the good works of the organization.

How do leaders measure fundraising effectiveness? They may start with standard financial measures: dollars raised, donor retention, return on investment (ROI), and program outcomes.  We believe it is equally important to assess and strengthen intangible signs of strong fundraising leadership.

  • While this list is not exhaustive, these are some indicators of strong leadership, a healthy culture, and an organization’s ability to attract donors to support its mission and programs.
  • Strong leaders have learning agility. They are always looking to improve themselves and their team.  They learn from past experiences and apply those lessons to today’s challenges.
  • Leaders (staff and volunteer) are engaged—that is the leadership embraces, supports, and exudes passion for the organization’s mission.
  • All those involved in leadership can clearly articulate the organization’s vision, mission, and programs. Staff and volunteers are aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives.
  • The leadership values and promotes diversity in talent and thought.
  • Leaders recognize that fundraising efforts are not just the development director’s job. Everybody has a role in the organization’s fundraising success.
  • Leaders understand the importance of–and are willing to invest in–sound management practices, systems, and outcomes measurement.

Strong leaders–executive, board, and staff–are a requisite for the organization to achieve its goals this year and remain viable for the future. It is an aspect of the organization that we explore whenever we begin an engagement because we know the importance of leadership to every successful nonprofit.