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Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

If Donors Don’t Respect Your CEO, You Aren’t Getting Very Far

March 13th, 2015 by Karen Climer

Jerry Panas says, in MegaGifts, that “million dollars gifts are made to organizations where there is an unbreakable bond of regard and respect between the donor and the organization’s chief staff person.” In Panas’s research, he could not find one instance where a donor made a major gift and did not have high regard and respect for the CEO.

In other words, even if you have the most compelling mission on the planet, you have the best outcomes, you have the warm and fuzzy stories, and your overhead ratio is excellent, none of that matters if the donor doesn’t respect your CEO. So, a solid CEO is not necessarily the motivation for giving, but if it’s not there, you aren’t getting the gift.

Although, in many cases, it is the motivation. There was a client I had a few year ago that received significant money each year from a local foundation. The foundation’s giving criteria are described in terms of “We absolutely will not fund you if you do A, B, or C. Don’t even waste your time applying.”  Well, this client did A. BUT, they received significant money every year from the foundation. One time, I asked the Vice President of Development about it. He said, “Well, it’s because [foundation CEO] thinks the world of [organization CEO]. This is not an unusual situation. In fact, I’d venture to guess that nearly every foundation, corporation, or major donor, makes at least one exception to their giving policy because, even though that organization doesn’t fit within their normal giving, they have so much respect for the CEO that they make an exception.

So, if your donors don’t respect the CEO, you aren’t getting more than a token gift.  If they do respect the CEO, they might break their own rules to give you a gift.

Posted in Donor Motivation, Major Gifts

One Response

  1. Ward

    I agree. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center has a widely respected (and liked) President/CEO, Richard Cohen, and a Founder, Morris Dees, who the SPLC donors absolutely adore. The SPLC is known for having one of the most successful fundraising efforts of any non-profit.

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