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A Letter to Nonprofit CEOs About Fundraising

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Dear Nonprofit CEO,

I know your plate is full. You manage your board and staff, have programs to monitor and design, staff vacancies to fill, budgeting and annual planning, and there are always fires to put out – this is the shortlist.

It is probably a true statement that your work history that prepared you to lead your organization did not include fundraising responsibilities. This is at least true for many of the CEOs I have worked with. Typically, that was someone else’s job and, therefore, you know little about the complexities and the expertise involved with raising money and running a development operation. You may also be like most people and are uncomfortable asking people for money.

You are the Chief Development Officer

But you are the CEO, and because of that you are also the chief development officer of your organization. This means you need to be working with your staff fundraising leader to build relationships with your top donors as well as help to find new potential donors using your leadership position. Unless you are a college or university president, you may not appreciate how important your role is. More than half of their time is spent on advancement.

Your vice president for development or director of development should be managing you with specific people and specific opportunities for higher level relationship building and fundraising. This means you need to carve out enough time in your busy week to make phone calls and have lunches, dinners and meetings with people who can help your organization through their generosity.

Making the Case for Support

I understand this may not be in your comfort zone, but believe me, after you close your first gift or two it will make you feel good, confident and energized to do more. Whether or not you are comfortable asking for a gift, you need to be very good at telling your organization’s story, how effectively you are fulfilling your mission, and what your aspirations are for which funds are needed. You need to make the case for philanthropic support. Your vice president for development can make the ask if need be. That said, big donors will expect you to be in the meeting if you have any chance for success.

I also want to add that if your vice president for development is not seated at your leadership table, he or she should be. Fundraising and development is that important to your organization. As time goes on it will become even more important. I am also seeing boards expecting CEOs to be involved with fundraising activities, and it will be your job to get your board members more involved in the fundraising effort.

Please take this note in the most positive way. Your staff and the public look to you for many things and with many expectations. And I am happy to say one of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts of your leadership will be fulfilling your mission and aspirations through philanthropic support.


Larry G. Raff, MPH
Copley Raff Inc.


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  1. Amy Hedison

    What do you do with an organization where the Board is comprised of experts in the field and is not expected to give money to the organization?

  2. Larry Raff

    If they are all experts in the field and they are on your board, then it is likely they are, themselves, deriving value for your organization. That value goes away if your organization does not succeed. If you have a development committee of these experts, then you have to have them make a recommendation to the board to change the expectations and to set modest personal or give/get goals. If there is not development committee, then you need an outside expert, i.e. a fundraising consultant to set the new expectation. Hope this is helpful.

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