LEADERSHIP | For CEOs and Future CEOs: Keep Donor Relations on Your Desk!

publication date: Mar 21, 2024
author/source: Sandra Baker, CFRE

I get it! You are swamped. Your multi-faceted role requires you to be an expert in every aspect of your charity, from the cost of office coffee through to the minute details of every program you run.

And, you must be an expert in human resources, budget management, governance, information technology and social media…all in five (or is it seven?) days a week.

You have expert fundraising staff, so surely you can leave all the donor relations work to the staff, right?

Not so right.

Your organization needs revenue to run well. The more, the better, to achieve your mission. Why not trade revenue and cash flow challenges for wonderful conversations that advance relationships with your loyal and supportive donors?

As CEO, you have many tools at your disposal. Compared to your fundraising staff, your donor conversations are easier, more effective and compelling!

Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • You are the only person with full line-of-sight on expenses, program needs and revenue.
  • Because you are in the field, gathering stories from the front-line that can be shared with your donors.
  • Your board work connects you with board member’s dreams for the charity; you can speak to new directions and growth plans.
  • Asking donors for advice and ideas is more successful, because you have the tools to lead the implementation of their ideas.
  • With your direct access and working relationships with your board, you are best positioned to match individual board members with philanthropy work.

Donors love talking directly with the CEO. They appreciate your insight, your commitment and your ability to share meaningful impact stories. Having conversations about the donor’s philanthropy becomes natural and easy.

Here are some quick things you can do now to put donor relations on the centre of your desk. Pick just one or two of these ideas, so that you can sustain the work while managing other priorities. Consider adding one more in a couple of months!

  1. Call the last five donors who’ve given to your charity. Express your gratitude, and find out what they love about the work you do. Ask for advice on how to continue to build organizational momentum. Give yourself five weeks to complete and document these calls. It’s my recommendation that you neither filter the list by gift size, donor capacity, nor type of gift. And, please, don’t second guess the timing of your call, or send an advance request for permission to call. Just call.
  2. Mail a hand-written letter to the past year’s top five donors. Express your thanks. Tell them about the brighter future they are making for your clients. Invite them to visit!
  3. Commit to completing one daily task that advances a donor relationship. Even a quick 7 pm thank-you email makes a big difference, and keeps you committed to your donor relations work. End every day by celebrating that you have completed one donor-focused activity.
  4. Meet with your fundraising staff. Ask them to generate a list of what they like about the philanthropy work they are doing, and things they wonder about. This is not meant to be a planning session, but more of a get-you-plugged-in session
  5. Meet with your finance staff. Do the same as with fundraising staff but specific to donor and donations activity. Where do they get bogged down? What do they think they could do to help support the drive for more donor giving? Can they see ways to improve efficiency in processing donations, while maintaining service to donors?
  6. Bring your philanthropy work to the board table regularly, by setting your own metrics and reporting on your progress to your board chair and to your board.

With your unique organizational view, including your knowledge of finance, program, and vision, you are your own best fundraiser.

Sandra Baker, CFRE is Director of Advancement at Hamilton District Christian High, as well as a charitable sector consultant. Sandra is speaking at two upcoming conferences: in April at the Canadian Association of Gift Planners National Conference and in May at the Faith, Fundraising and Communication Symposium.

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