February 23, 2017 Doug Shaw

What I’m about to tell you REALLY happened. This tale is not based upon a true story. I’m sad to say it is actually a VERY true story.

One of my colleagues and I were spending the day with a ministry that had contracted with our firm to help them with their direct mail program. As meetings go, it was progressing fairly well. Ideas were flowing, plans were being presented and discussed, modifications were being made as needed, and decisions were being made.

We broke for lunch, which ran a little longer than expected but, hey, these things happen, so when we returned to the conference room we reviewed our progress against the agenda, deleted a couple of items that were of less importance and resumed our meeting.

Now this story begins to get a little weird. Around 2:30 in the afternoon one of the development staff stood up and left the room. This person didn’t say anything like, “I’ll be right back,” or “I have an important phone call.” The guy just left. I asked the Chief Development Officer (CDO) if we should wait for his colleague to return, “No, let’s just continue,” he said, so we did. In a few more minutes another member of the team departed in much the same manner. We just carried on. Soon someone else left and by 3:00pm the CDO followed suit.

My colleague and I found ourselves sitting in the conference room with no one to talk to. We exchanged glances and just sat there for about 5 minutes. Finally I whispered to my colleague, “Kind of quiet out there isn’t it?” He looked at the door leading to the hallway outside and said, “Yeah, kind of eerie isn’t it?” Another two minutes passed and I decided to go see what was going on . . . emerging from the conference room I encountered an empty building! Absolutely no one was there!

I went back into the conference room and informed my colleague of the strangeness of our situation. “I guess the meeting’s over. We might as well just pack up and leave too!”

As we left the building I could see the CDO climbing into his car way across the parking lot. He just waved! The only thing I could think to do, in the moment, was wave back! So we just drove to the airport and took a two-hour flight home.

During my tenure in the great halls of philanthropy, I’ve encountered many other situations that were quite disarming and disappointing. In each case the Chief Development Officer stood at the center of the dysfunction.

I’ve come to recognize that most Chief Development Officers are quite capable, and many are absolutely outstanding. But there are many, especially in smaller nonprofit organizations, who are ill-prepared for the responsibilities they carry. Unfortunately, in these cases the ministries suffer from serious lack of funding.

Here are just a few of the attributes of an ineffective CDO:

  • Interest, rather than passion: for your mission, ministry, and donors
  • Energy lags, except at 4:00 pm, has a poor work ethic, and does only the minimal requirements of the job
  • People skills are wanting (can be reclusive, strident, insecure, or insensitive)
  • Has an acute lack of self-awareness
  • A demonstrated ability to TALK about raising funds rather than actually DOING it
  • A “Personal theology or philosophy” that conflicts with Scripture and reality in general
  • A high tendency to make assumptions rather than dig for the facts
  • Is constantly in search of “the magic bullet” or idea that will turn everything around, e.g. spends much of their time on the things that produce the least results because they do not know the Rules of Fundraising
  • Not a trusting delegator, or conversely delegates everything
  • Lacks the energy and curiosity to be constantly learning about the best practices of fundraising
  • Takes credit for the effective work of others (runs to get ahead of the parade)

Very seldom have I seen a Chief Development Officer who exhibits ALL of these negative characteristics. They would most likely not be hired in the first place should this be the case. But if a CDO has several of these critically dysfunctional traits, s/he can cause great harm to a ministry. This is why rule #59 “An Ineffective Chief Development Officer Drains the Life Out of Your Ministry” is included here.

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