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Every nonprofit needs a “dynamic duo”
Posted on: February 14, 2017 at 11:09 am

By Karen Kegg

Batman and Robin, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Bert and Ernie.  These are some of the dynamic duos in pop culture who epitomize a partnership in which each one brings a unique skill to the table to accomplish a goal.  It’s a “dynamic duo”–just like a Development Director and Executive Director of a nonprofit organization.

Many of the clients we work with have wonderful Executive Directors who are passionate about their organizations and their missions. They are eager and willing to give donors an opportunity to contribute to their causes and find pleasure in seeing others delight in their gifts.  However, many Executive Directors are not as confident in asking donors for money and are reluctant to do so.  They, in turn, rely solely on their Development Directors to do most of the asking.  I believe that this is a missed opportunity for those nonprofits and causes great frustration for Development Directors.  I believe success happens when the Executive Director and the Development Director become a “dynamic duo” and work together as a team.

How one nonprofit makes it work

So, I decided to go out and chat with my friend Russell Smith, who has been the Executive Director for the Austin Child Guidance Center (ACGC) for six years to see how he and his Development Director work together in fundraising.  Russell is a self-professed introvert (I beg to differ) and feels more comfortable with the administration of the organization, grant writing, and laying out his vision to the Board and staff, with the help of his program staff to guide him.  The Director of Development, Renee Hanson, has worked with Russell for five years at Austin Child Guidance Center and they have become comfortable with their roles.  Although ACGC is currently building its major gift program, Renee and Russell have been establishing strong relationships with their current donors and event attendees.  Renee is the backbone of the development office and is instrumental in getting the word out about its mission.

Here are some of the questions I asked Russell to find out why he and Renee are a dynamic duo:

How do you like to be “coached” or guided by the Director of Development?  

Renee and I have worked together now for five years.  We like having a strategy session before a donor meeting and talking through how the person is connected to us and where they want to be connected.  We want to know what this person is interested in, how we can meet his or her needs.  So, a lot of the preparation is the strategy and how we’ve connected the individual and how we move them in the future.  We’re putting a prospect management plan in place and are now looking at how prospective major gift donors have been involved with us both financially and not financially.  We’re finding those folks that may not be champions and supporters already, but may be interested in children’s mental health.  Neither one of us has a strong background in major gifts, but we are working together to build a major gifts program.

Do you like to visit prospects solo or have Renee with you? Does it depend on the donor? 

So far it’s been generally both of us together.  We want to expand so that we can each have our own portfolio of donors.  Maybe narrow those lists down and the ED have the top tier.

What challenges do Executive Directors face when working with Development (as opposed to other departments within the nonprofit?)  

Development is the most outward-looking part of my job.  I’m by nature an introvert and it’s nice to have a Development Director who is an extrovert.  My comfort level is crafting grant proposals and doing things behind the scenes.  We complement each other’s skills sets.  We draw energy from each other’s expertise.

What can Development Directors do to prepare Executive Directors who don’t like to make fundraising calls?  How can Development Director’s make the experience more enjoyable and/or comfortable? 

Renee lays the general groundwork with the people we are going to talk to and the community.  What she and her team have done really well is to build the community’s knowledge of us and build the pool and then from there figuring out who has the means and the interest to become a donor and then a major donor.  She has connected with people and builds those people’s journey with ACGC.

What expectations does the Director of Development have for the Executive Director? 

I think laying out the strategy. When we work together on grant proposals, she is more of the narrative and I’m the budget and numbers person.  A lot of what we do balances that.  For individual proposals, we talk through strategy and process and then we are in a place where she can make asks, but there will be a time when I’ll make the bigger asks.  We will do this enough and be able do it separately and also bring in board members.  Renee has the relationships with our corporate donors and she sets those meetings, makes the “asks” on her own, and guides the stewardship strategy.

I do enjoy connecting people to what we do and give them the opportunity to help.  Renee is relentless is getting the mission and the word to the broader community and she is very connected.  She is passionate about the ACGC and the work we do here.  In addition, we have an ongoing relationship with each other and that helps!

Working together going forward

How do YOUR organization’s Executive Director and Development Director work together?  Fundraising best practices indicate that 20 percent of an Executive Director’s time should be dedicated to fundraising.  Therefore, it is essential that the Director of Development manages the ED’s time efficiently to make the most of his or her time with a donor, whether it is cultivation, a solicitation or stewardship.

Trusting the expertise of your Director of Development and the knowledge they have in the process will allow the Executive Director to gain confidence in the art and science of Development and to be successful!