Help! My Executive Director Hates Fundraising!

by Joan Garry

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Before I started at GLAAD in 1997, I had never asked anyone for money in my entire life.

OK, well, occasionally my mother. But she typically said no.

Then I was hired to be an Executive Director of an organization with a $1.8 million budget (on paper). A quick look at the bank account indicated that we had $360 in the bank and nearly $300K in debt. And 18 staff to attempt to pay.

I was far from convinced I would be any good at fundraising, but there’s nothing quite like the prospect of layoffs to teach you what you’re capable of.

Before not too long, I actually learned to like fundraising a lot. I realized that people LIKE to give money to causes they care about. And I was lucky that I’ve been a part of one of the debt relief programs. I had a handful of board members who were top-notch fundraisers. I also had a development director who was driven for us to be successful. (Maybe a bit TOO driven, mind you — see Julie’s guest post on heart monitors and staff burnout.)

And this, my friends, is the key.  US.  Successful fundraising happens when the Development Director and the Executive Director become an “us.”

Here’s a very simple plan for turning this key nonprofit duo into a powerful and successful us.


Before we get to the plan, let’s kill some conventional wisdom.

You believe your E.D. hates to fundraise. She seems completely uninterested in the details of the numbers. You can’t remember the last time your E.D. talked about making an ask.

I hear it all the time from my development clients.

But I don’t buy it.

Nearly always, the problem isn’t a lack of interest or motivation. Your E.D. fully understands that money = programs.

The real problem is time management.


Senior executives allow their calendars to manage them and not the other way around.  If you want your monthly calendar to look a certain way – with attention paid to the vast array of activities you have ­– it doesn’t just happen!  You have to plan it.

The E.D., the Development Director and the person who manages the E.D.’s schedule (executive assistant) should form a team to create a monthly calendar that enables the E.D. to achieve agreed-upon fundraising commitments, be they asks or cultivations.

About midway through each month, there should be a monthly planning meeting.  Also include any member of the Devo team who can add value to the planning session.

Meeting Goals

  • Agree on meetings the E.D. will take during the upcoming month. Who will attend them with her/him?
  • Will the Major Gifts person set them up or the assistant? The list should be prioritized. Blocks of time should be set aside and offered to the Major Gifts person. These blocks get held for a finite period of time. If the assistant does not hear back in 72 hours, the holds are released.
  • Agree on meetings the Devo Director will take in the upcoming month. Same list as above.
  • Do not forget to capture all agreed upon action items. Assign someone to capture them and circulate them that very same day
  • Recirculate the action items 48 hours before the next meeting as a reminder / catalyst / cattle prod.


Who attends?

  • Development Director
  • Executive Director
  • The person who manages the E.D’s schedule.

Just the three of you. Uninterrupted for an hour. Non-negotiable. Minimum of 45 minutes. Probably more like an hour.

Yes, it’s every week. But it’s one hour. It might be the most important hour you spend each week for the health of your organization.

The executive assistant is a ‘must’ in this meeting. You need to set up meetings with potential donors. Getting meetings is not easy – the folks you want to meet with are in high demand. EVERYONE wants to meet with them!!! You simply cannot underestimate the importance of the art and science of scheduling.

Who is responsible for the agenda?

  • Development Director

What A Development Director Should Bring to Every Meeting

  • Fundraising dashboard. The simplest of dashboards that tell a quick story about fundraising. The dashboard should be developed together by the E.D. and the Director of Development so that it suits the needs of all.
  • Special events. A one-page update on any special event activities. If this is a recurring event, some historical context that the E.D. can share with the board (how we are doing relative to same time last year)
  • Staff Update. Successes, challenges, professional development, “marketing” the successes of anyone the ED is questioning.
  • D.D. Ask List. For the Dev. Director. Your own ASK list for the week. Who are you meeting with? Who is on you target list to schedule time with.
  • E.D. Ask List. An ASK list for the E.D. For this last part of the meeting, make sure the executive assistant can talk about open blocks and how the meeting should be set up.


It’s so easy for a month or two (or more) to escape without the E.D. and the Development Director being in the actual “asking” business. I find it remarkable.  Managing the business of a team of staff and an organization can easily be a time bandit that takes your eye off the other important balls to juggle.

That’s why I recommend that you dive into the details, that you meet weekly and that you plan monthly.


No strong executive director hates fundraising.  I just don’t buy it. But I do believe that some executive directors are more comfortable with it than others. And I also believe that all executive directors need to create a partnership with development directors and staff and board chairs and the lead on the development committee.

And this does not just happen. An organization has to make that happen. And I believe that the driver of all of this is the development director and not the executive director.

Great fundraising is a team effort and development directors need to see themselves as quarterbacks.

8 thoughts on “Help! My Executive Director Hates Fundraising!”

  1. How do you start? I run a small historical society with a board that runs from the word “fundraising”. I have no idea how to start fundraising. Do I just contact members or past donors and ask them out for coffee??

  2. Hey Kathy. Sorry for the tardy reply. Lots of questions about your board but yes, absolutely. Start meeting with members and donors. Ask them questions about why they contribute (or why they stopped). Create a relationship with these folks. And as for your board, this concern is SO common. Were they recruited to join the board with an expectation that they would fundraise? If not, time to change the expectations. Have a heart to heart with your board chair and see if you can do something to change the culture. One excellent way is for you to recruit a new board member who is either an proven fundraiser or enthusiastic about being good at it. And of course you can always print out some of my pieces about fundraising for them, especially this one

  3. Tell me more Diane. Just an ED? No paid development staff at all? If that is the case, the board must play a big role in (a) holding the ED accountable to raise money and (b) stand as eager partners to help her/him in the efforts.

  4. What do you do if you don’t have any paid staff, and your board is run solely by a group of 6-7 volunteer board members, working full-time jobs with children / families? How does one find the time to fundraise effectively? Are there unique avenues to pursue?

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