What Makes Change Stick?

on in Fundraising

What’s the one most powerful indicator of an agency’s ability to make lasting change in its development returns?

I have a surprising answer to that.

You’d think it was the board, or a wealthy founder, or a super-rich patron who takes the agency under his/her wing – but I don’t think those are the factors that lead to real, sustained, institutional fundraising change.

It’s the support and attention of the executive director.

Why do I say that?

Because board members are volunteers.

And at the end of the day, they go home, and they leave it behind. I say that as a board member myself – I have to triage my life, and some times I just don’t have the room to take my work, my kids, and my board responsibilities home and into the shower (our metaphorical board member “ownership” test – are you thinking about it in the shower?). Just not enough mental space…or capacity for stress from so many directions.

Which means… that as the nonprofit executive, the buck stops here. It’s up to me as an executive director to keep the balls in the air, the board members motivated and appreciated, the volunteers excited, etc. Doesn’t mean I have to do everything, but yes, I am responsible for making sure that everything of that nature does get done.

In fundraising, this doesn’t mean that the executive director brings all the assets to the table – but that his/her support, interest, and attention is what gets board members (and staff) to perform. And what gets fundraising prioritized, again and again, when program and financial imperatives threaten to take all the air out of the room.

But how do I say that?

As an executive director myself – ruefully.

I wish it was true that my board would take off by itself – that all the boards we work with would “see the light” that fundraising = friendraising and just start to fly all on their own – but the fact is, it all comes down to us.

There is, after all, the aura of leadership. The fact that people prioritize what I prioritize. That people do, actually, want to please the executive director (though I know some times it doesn’t feel that way!)

What can you pay attention to? And how far do new initiatives travel without the sustained drive of the chief daily leader…?



Originally published 9/21/10

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