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Managing the Messiah Moment

2008 Obama poster

The new chief advancement officer or CEO or consultant is not the “savior”, and managing this expectation must be done boldly and early. How many times have you heard it from volunteers or the organization CEO… “Once so and so starts we’ll start raising the money we need.” It is often said in development committee meetings prior to the start of the new CAO, or the new consultant.

A moment like this and like many others in personal conversations or in emails, needs to be confronted immediately and in stride by the (brave) advancement professional in the room. In the role of consultant, and often executive search provider, our mantra from the beginning is that advancement and fundraising is a team sport. The responsibility is shared by the advancement team, advancement and leadership volunteers and senior executives…at minimum.

Yes, the new CAO (or consultant) needs to be an inspiring leader and a good coach, but she should not be expected to do it on her own or bring a portfolio of “heat and stir” donors from her last gig. It is our job to not let anyone off the hook of their responsibilities to identify prospects, help the CAO build authentic relationships on behalf of the organization, provide intelligence about donors and participate in gift acquisition (whatever that looks like).

If you are the Messiah candidate and you are picking up the signs of unreasonable expectations, you are best to be clear before you start your new position or certainly early in your tenure. State clearly that results will not happen overnight and magically. You first need to learn who knows whom, who needs to be linked to someone, and how to finesse the relationships of others in support of the organization by involving staff or yourself.

Once you have a good understanding of the advancement shop’s resources, and the readiness and capacity of the donor pool, you can then document year-one expectations and share them with principal stakeholders.

Your takes:

1. Congratulations on your new job! and keep an ear to the ground about the rustling of unreasonable expectations.

2. If people are viewing you as the “messiah”, dispel them of the notion immediately and regularly.

3. Be clear to your boss, peers and volunteers how long you think it will take you to provide them with realistic expectations for your first year of service.

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