Rule #60: An Effective Chief Development Officer is a Gift to the Spirit

Doug Shaw Donor Focus Newsletter, Fundraising, Partners Leave a Comment

When I first met her, she was sitting in the office of the CEO. The ministry headquarters was housed in an old apartment building. Not much to look at, the apartments had been converted into offices (so just about everybody had their own bathroom)! This was a great benefit to the staff, but it was clearly not suitable for a ministry headquarters and a short-term solution at best for this critical ministry.

As I met with this Chief Development Officer (CDO) and the CEO for the very first time, I couldn’t help but notice the buckets that were strategically placed all over the CEO’s office. It had been raining for days, and the dripping of water from the ceiling was more than a little distracting as we began our discussions. The really telling thing about the state of this old structure was we were meeting in an office on the first floor of this two-story building! The rain had passed through the top floor and was leaking from the ceiling into the ground floor. I had a momentary concern about the ceiling caving in from the weight of the water but decided to push it out of my mind and continue our meeting.

There was a “chair rail” around the entire office with architectural drawings displaying a beautiful new headquarters as well as several other campuses intended to replace existing old structures currently in use by this historic ministry.

The CEO then motioned to all of the architectural drawings and said, “This is where we are going. What can you do to help us grow our number of donors so we can afford to operate in our new facilities once they are built?”

“How much more funding do you need?” I asked.

The CEO and CDO responded, in unison, “One million dollars net!”

“When will you need to achieve this increase in income?” I asked.

“Within the next five years,” the CDO responded. “That’s when we’ll be fully operational.”

I sat there and looked at the buckets, slowly filling with water. Then my gaze went back to the drawings. Once I refocused my eyes and fixed them upon these two people, I saw great faith and determination in their eyes.

“Would you like me to prepare a proposal for you?” I asked.

Then the CDO spoke. She said, “We aren’t even sure that we can meet payroll this month, Doug. We’re preparing a mailing, but I think we need help to do it right.”

I looked at what they were preparing to mail and offered to help them, even as I worked on a proposal.

“We don’t even know if we can afford you,” said the CDO. I thought for a moment and said, “The money from this appeal will be generated before my invoice arrives.”

“Really?” she said. “You think our little donor file of 3,000 people can generate enough money to pay you and have enough left to help with our payroll?”

I asked several more questions about the ministry, including what their current supporters liked to give to, and how the ministry was perceived by the community.

Their answers and determination gave me a sense of confidence that if we proceeded together, using the best practices of direct response fundraising (or the rules of fundraising, if you will), we would be successful in helping to grow this vital ministry.

My proposal, when presented, had been modest but also laid out a plan for significant growth through acquiring new donors while cultivating their existing supporters. The CEO had also asked for a five-year-plan to generate the additional $1 million in net for ministry. In faith, they accepted my proposal, and the work began in earnest.

My initial mailing had indeed produced the expected income and then some. Their little group of donors was proving to be quite generous and committed when asked in an appropriate way.

Over the next several weeks, months and years I met with the CDO as often as the situation required. She was always prepared with many questions, which I appreciated, since many CDOs approach fundraising with their assumptions as opposed to questions. But she also brought many other desirable traits to our partnership. Here are just a few of the attributes of an effective CDO:

  • Passion: for your mission, ministry, donors and life in general
  • Knows, understands and embraces the financial goals of the ministry
  • Has great energy, enough to fill a stadium
  • Has a very high degree of self-awareness
  • People skills that are wonderfully infectious to all around them
  • A spirit of curiosity about what motivates donors to give
  • A commitment to life-long learning about fundraising
  • Is constantly aware of the ministry’s financial needs, goals and progress toward achieving them from all sources
  • Fully understands that income and expense are inextricably linked (see The Rules of Fundraising, Rule #16)
  • A demonstrated ability to raise funds (usually through major donors)
  • Exhibits clear and established boundaries with donors
  • Has sound judgment in deciding what opportunities to pursue or decline
  • A clearly intelligent person who leads the development team
  • A collaborator with their peers, who doesn’t have to know all the answers
  • Has trusting relationships with the leadership team, CEO and board
  • Believes in trusted partnerships with consultants (rather than seeing them as vendors)
  • A trusting delegator
  • Embraces the media as a friend to the ministry and cultivates them accordingly
  • Gives credit where credit is due

To sum up the characteristics of a highly effective Chief Development Officer, it can be said of them that s/he is a master craftsman of the great profession of philanthropic encouragement to all they encounter.

The CDO of the ministry I described at the beginning of this rule had most of the attributes listed immediately above. She had many of them when I met her. Over time, I saw her acquire many more of these traits as the ministry grew.

Little did I realize, that first day in the leaky office, that I would participate in and witness all that this ministry would become. Today it is one of the largest, most highly effective and respected ministries in one of the largest cities in the United States!

The CDO, who is now retired, was the very epitome of Rule #60, An effective Chief Development Officer is a gift to the spirit! I’m certain she will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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