Perhaps you saw the recent LinkedIn post from Regina Bergeron in your feed:

“Hey fundraising friends! Doing an informal survey. What are the MOST common mistakes that nonprofit leaders make related to raising resources??!!!”

The responses came quickly and were unsurprising: Leaders not trusting development professionals. Unrealistic expectations. Not being willing to give their time to fundraising. Refusing to invest in major gift staff. And too many more to list.

We’ve all worked with leaders who’ve been challenging. While the temptation can be strong to throw our hands up in the air, this is where our real work kicks in. Training an organizational leader to be an ally to the philanthropic process is a part of the value we bring to the table as development professionals. While we might ultimately find an executive to be un-coachable, we do a service to our industry when we try.

In my experience, the ability to coach an executive requires a solid foundation of respect. Respect alone doesn’t solve every issue that you and a leader may disagree about, but it does give a platform for honest conversation, and makes it more likely that the leader will be open to your counsel. I’ve demonstrated and earned that respect with techniques that are not new, but do require intention and consistency:

  • Having a plan. From preparing annual plans to ensuring every event has specific goals, I establish credibility by showing that my team’s activities are coordinated, strategic, and moving us toward success.
  • Protecting their time. This includes creating meeting agendas that support focus on the most important topics to sending concise emails with clear action items.
  • Never allowing an executive to walk into a situation unprepared. Whether it’s an internal meeting between deans, a donor event or a Rotary lunch, I make sure the leader knows why they’re present, what is expected of them, and any necessary background.
  • Demonstrating honesty, even when it’s difficult. I want leadership to have confidence that if we disagree about something, they will hear it from me. Delivery requires tact (and asking myself whether it really needs to be said at all), but the dialogue is critical.
  • Being accountable for myself and my team. Whether a communication was sent with a mistake, an event’s details weren’t well planned, or any of the numerous other opportunities for error, I don’t deflect responsibility. Own it quickly and strengthen the process to ensure stronger partnership in the future.
  • Being a true partner. Showing up, leaning in, and recognizing the myriad of other responsibilities our leaders have on their plates. Provide strategy and empathy, be a true area expert on philanthropy, and understand how and where this priority fits when looking at other responsibilities our leaders have.

What tools and experiences do you use when coaching executives to better partner with development? Share your thoughts in the comments so we can continue to learn from each other.

KDD Philanthropy can help your organization strengthen its culture, build tools and expand partnerships throughout the organization. Contact us today about how we can help your team achieve even greater success.

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