Every Monday, I send out a fundraising email for nonprofit Executive Directors and CEOs. Last week, I dealt with a question I get alot: how much of a nonprofit CEO’s time should be given to fundraising?. Here’s what I told them.

Fundraising is all about Leadership

As the CEO or executive director, the nonprofit follows your lead. This is especially true in your attitude to fundraising. If you see it as a hassle or as something “dirty,” your staff will amplify your attitude throughout your organization. Donors will even pick up on this this disdain, or at least this discomfort, and wonder if their intuition is telling them to not donate to you.

A part of leadership is knowing how to make sure your team has the resources to do what they’re tasked with doing. If your model is dependent on donated funds, as a leader, you need to get over your discomfort. More than that, you should be involving all your direct reports in some aspect of fundraising. Fundraising can’t be successful if the nonprofit isn’t effective. The nonprofit can’t be effective if your direct reports aren’t doing their jobs well. So their work really does impact fundraising.

And an easy way to show them that you take fundraising seriously is if they see that fundraising is important enough for you to give it time every week.

How do you know how much time is right?

Here are a few ideas to help you figure out what’s right for you:

  1. Look at your typical time given to fundraising last year and add an hour.

  2. Figure out how long it takes to call 10 people – looking up their number, dialing, leaving a message or speaking with them, recording a note in your donor database. Then block that time.

    I find it takes me an average of 6 – 10 minutes. So 10 calls taking 10 minutes each would be just about 2 hours. Schedule that time on your calendar.

  3. Call all donors who give above your average gift until these calls are taking 50% of your day.

    This idea comes from my friend Jay Love. Based on the research, nonprofits do a lousy job at keeping donors year after year. Your thank you call will help increase donor retention which both reduces the cost of communicating to them so they’ll give again this year. And most research over the last few decades indicates that the thank you call will help increase the donor’s future gifts. So your time given to thank you calls will be reducing costs and increasing revenue.

    Jay says that a nonprofit CEO should be calling every single donor over the nonprofit’s average gift amount. Every single donor. CEOs should be personally making those calls until it’s taking up 50% of the CEO’s time. Not 50% of their “fundraising time” – 50% of their entire time.

Are you committed enough to make those calls? Time spent thanking donors is the best investment you can make. Finding new donors is practically pointless if you’re not keeping the donors you already have.

How to coordinate with your fundraising staff

If you have fundraising staff, treat them like experts. Fundraising is its own field with its own research and benchmarks. Much of what makes for effective fundraising is not what you’d think would work.

  • Ask fundraising staff who they’d love for you to connect with

    Let’s face it, if you haven’t been great with fundraising up to this point, they probably won’t give you the highest donors. Accept that. And get good at building relationships with the people they give you. Learn what you need to learn to be an asset with donors of all giving amounts.

  • Don’t blame the fundraising staff for not filling your calendar

    You are the leader. Set the example. Learn enough about your donor database to see if people you’re interested in getting to know are already in there. If they aren’t, go ahead and reach out. If they are, coordinate your interactions with your fundraising team. That way if they’re working on a bigger gift, you’ll know before you call.

If you don’t feel this confidence in your fundraising staff – confidence enough to trust that they know their profession as much as a cardiologist knows her profession – confidence to believe them over the assertions of the loudest board member – then you have a staffing issue you need to address.

Leaders need to lead

You are the leader of a nonprofit. For good or bad, nonprofits rely on donated revenue. So figure out how important fundraising is to your nonprofit. If you are worried about how you’ll pay the bills, then I suggest you make sure most of your time is given to fundraising: researching donors, engaging and qualifying prospects, asking donors, and thanking. Even if you’re a really small nonprofit.

You can’t farm this out entirely. You need to learn how fundraising works. Learn what donors actually respond to. Learn how to communicate with respect to your staff and the people you help while being compelling to donors. Learn how to lift up those your serve while clearly asking others to donate.

As a leader, you need to lead.

A nonprofit CEO who won’t learn fundraising is like a shop owner who keeps organizing the shelves but won’t learn sales.

You’ll go out of business.

So, commit to blocking specific times on your calendar for fundraising. Learn the basics of your donor database. And start making calls. People love talking to the CEO. So go ahead and make their day.

If you’re like most CEOs, you started last year with good intentions. But those got drowned out by the competing demands on your time. So find an accountability partner or a coach to help you keep accountable. And to help you optimize what time you do have for fundraising.

The world needs what your nonprofit provides. Learn how to be a nonprofit that stays in business.

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