Create a Remarkable CEO-Development Director Relationship

Mastering the Elusive Nonprofit CEO-Development RelationshipIn a quiet corner in a city’s nicest restaurant, a couple starts to decline a naming opportunity. When the new CEO realizes what is happening, he blurts into the suddenly silent room, “You’re not going to fund it?!” The Chief of Development (COD) kicks him under the table.

Despite this memorable start, over time, this relationship between CEO and COD succeeds. They raise millions for their nonprofit and a substantial gift from the couple.

Thriving CEO and Development relationships raise significant donations. They help donors fund big dreams. They nurture reluctant boards. They engage staff members to build new donor relationships. As donations grow, they generate respect in the community.

Unfortunately, too few CEO and Development relationships reach their potential. When this partnership flounders, nonprofits pay twice. They waste staff dollars, and they lose donations. Compass Point’s 2013 study, Underdeveloped, A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, found “high levels of instability and uncertainly in the development director position.” These include “high turnover, long vacancies, and performance problems.” Underdeveloped confirmed what many experts in the nonprofit field already understood. “The relationship is not easily managed,” explains Ann Decker, Executive Director of the Indian River State College Foundation.

Can more nonprofits benefit from healthier relationships between their CEO and Development Chiefs? Yes. This article summarizes a series of interviews with and about successful CEO-Development teams. It introduces the Trust Pyramid. Both will help you to strengthen the CEO-Development partnership at your nonprofit.

 Trust: The Foundation of Success

What makes CEO-Development relationships work? Trust. Even if you’re nodding in agreement, you also recognize that trust, or lack of it, is complex. To help us talk about successful CEO-Development relationships, I’ve divided trust into four common elements illustrated in the Trust Pyramid.


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