• Alan Clayton, PF International

What Great Fundraising CEOs are doing to raise their fundraising game

If you are a financially ambitious CEO, this should be a useful story.



If you are a frustrated fundraiser, then consider aiming to become a Great Fundraising CEO. It’s the best way for you to raise MUCH more money and make a massive impact on the world.


For me, it is a real and humbling privilege of my job that I get to work with some of the very best non-profit CEOs in the world. There are many and I respect them all.


For this article, I will analyse the fantastic work of five CEO’s who have increased fundraising income with dramatic results over the last few years:


  • Daniel Speckhard at Corus International, Baltimore, USA.

  • SallyAnn Kelly at Aberlour Children’s Charity, Stirling, Scotland.

  • Cathy Yelf, at Macular Society, Andover, UK.

  • Scott Chapman at Royal Flying Doctors Service, Melbourne, Australia.

  • Rasmus Kjeldahl at Børns Vilkår, Copenhagen, Denmark.


The source for this article is detailed notes I have kept of the behaviours, analyses and actions initiated by these CEOs over a time period of up to six years.


They have all been supported by fantastic fundraising heads – Dave, Eddie, Pippa, Emma, Marie, Lisbet and Allan – but for now I will focus on the specific behaviours of these CEOs.


I want to show you how they drove fundraising income to transform these organisations.


As a prologue, it is important to note that all five of our featured CEOs admit that they came to the most senior position via non-fundraising careers. And they said they had held assumptions, misconceptions and even some prejudices about fundraising when arriving in post.


None of them had appreciated the resources, power, independence or scale of opportunity that fundraising could deliver for them and their organisation.


As an epilogue, all of them have delivered transformational levels of income growth and created, launched and succeeded with new programme strategies and projects on the back of the fundraising growth. All of them have reached more service users, clients and beneficiaries and they have all made the world a better place for a huge number of people.


So, what’s the story between the prologue and the epilogue? It’s a consistent story for all five featured Great Fundraising CEOs.


Are you sitting comfortably?


1. They researched what other organisations have achieved. If there was no equivalent in their country, they looked internationally. They did not believe ‘it won’t work here.’ They looked at markets, statistics and communications, and they spoke to their peers in successful Great Fundraising Organisations.


They came to believe transformational growth was possible and increased their ambition.


2. They took their time to learn and understand fundraising. They investigated the difference between fundraising and grant funding and developed clear insight into the different communications required for both. They immersed themselves in the strategy and metrics of investment leadership and management. They studied the different leadership styles and behaviours required to bridge the different cultures needed by fundraising and all other departments.


They made themselves ready.


3. They took ownership of kick-starting fundraising. They understood that the whole organisation needed to get behind a fundraising surge, and it was their responsibility to achieve this.


They took command of initiating the change.


4. They achieved organisational wide buy-in. They took the time and allocated resources for training, immersion, cultural development programmes and co-creation sprints for communications. They dealt with politics and nay-sayers. They remembered to include the board throughout.


They got the right people on the bus – and got a few wrong people off it.


5. They made the three key decisions. They prioritised meeting donors' needs, optimum investment levels and focussed, powerful communications. They consulted and involved widely but realised the buck for the final decisions ultimately stopped with them.


They did not compromise.


6. They set their fundraisers free. They set ambitious targets and gave fundraisers the resources to achieve them. They moved organisational chaff, politics and bureaucracy out of the way so fundraisers could move with the speed required. They invested in the professional development of their fundraisers. They permitted testing and learning. They stopped amateurs blocking fundraising with mere opinions.


They treated fundraisers as respected professionals.


7. They kept involved. They left their fundraisers free to fly, but they touched base regularly. Partly they were monitoring progress, but mainly they were using the authority of their position to make sure fundraisers have the required resources to deliver on increasing targets and evaluating if there were any blockages which only the CEO could clear.


They led but did not manage.


8. They used the money to create innovative projects. They used the increased income to deliver more activity in direct pursuit of the mission. Some created innovative new projects that only fundraising could fund. Others scaled existing projects in a way they could not otherwise. They fed the results of these projects back to the fundraisers and to the donors.


They inspired for the long term.


We know of many CEOs beyond these five who have delivered Great Fundraising. With and through their teams and boards.


All five CEOs I have mentioned did all eight stages of the story, plus the prologue and epilogue. This is no coincidence.


Philanthropy and Fundraising International enables Chief Executives and fundraising leaders to become Great Fundraising CEOs.


Why not take a look at what we do to find out how you can become one?


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