Most CEOs of behavioral healthcare organizations did not get into the nonprofit field because they love asking for money. They got into it because of their love for the mission: changing lives, strengthening families, educating the community. Therefore, when we tell them that yes, they too will need to be actively involved in the fundraising process, this is not always met with delight. We have worked with so many CEOs who admit their own distaste—and downright fear—of fundraising. Once they become comfortable with our process for engaging and developing relationships with individual donors, their fears are allayed. They realize that their job is one of sharing their own passion for the mission of the organization, telling stories of lives changed, listening to donors and potential donors about their own lives and stories, and finding the common thread between their donors' interests and the CEO's wish list for the organization.
At each of the Benevon workshops I attend, I meet privately with all the CEOs in a group to hear their own stories of how they became involved in the work of their organizations and what keeps them there. These stories are often highly personal and difficult to tease out. CEOs will want to steer clear of talking about themselves and quickly default to their standard way of talking about the organization, including the history and litany of programs. While that will be a part of what donors want to hear, the real job of the CEO in donor cultivation and development is to share their deeper passion for the mission so that the donor knows this organization is in the hands of someone who is inspired by their work and truly feels called to be doing it.
The moment a CEO recognizes that sharing their passion and deeper personal connection to the mission is the most effective way to begin a relationship with a donor is the rollover moment into true donor development. The fear of asking for money begins to melt as the CEO realizes that their job is not to persuade or convince anyone to give them money, but rather to share their purpose and goals with potential donors and listen closely to see what resonates. These listening and relationship-building skills are already deeply engrained in most good CEOs. If they have come up through the ranks as a clinician or manager, they have been trained to listen and build relationships. If they came in from the business world, they usually know how to build relationships over time with customers and employees. The same principles apply here: making that true connection, being open and authentic, sharing what truly inspires you and motivates you, how you got into this work in the first place and why it's your mission in life to see it through. People are looking to connect with—and give money to—organizations with passionate leadership.