The True Role of the Executive Director

I believe strongly in collaboration, and I love to do whatever I can to help foster healthy communities — professionally, personally, and socially. This guest post from my friend Tim Heimerle at Hiring Karma marks the first of what I hope will be a long and fruitful series of posts from other relationship builders in the Seattle community and beyond. Enjoy! – Jen

By Tim Heimerle

As I’ve been moving through my most recent job search, I’ve been thinking a great deal about roles and responsibilities.  My search has been slightly schizophrenic, as I’ve been interviewing for both pure development and executive director positions.  And while these two elements of my search have been very different, there is perhaps one commonality between the two.

Put in the simplest terms, the job of a Development Director is to raise money. As many who have held this position will tell you, it is both an art and a science.  You deal with data, reporting, correspondence, personalities, psychology, ego and a myriad of other items. But at the end of the day, the most important task, in my opinion, of a Development Director is to build and maintain relationships.

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Yes, Virginia, there is real interagency collaboration! It exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist…

… and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no collaboration.

Interagency collaboration. Organizations with different boards, budgets, and slightly different mission statements — working together on a common problem and collaborating on a fundraising project. Everyone wins. The organizations achieve their fundraising, outreach, and constituent engagement goals. No one gets hurt.

Is this a fantasy… or a state worth working towards?

Poster for Seattle AIDS walk 2012If you believe in the isolationist model of development (“Are you an isolationist or relationship builder?”), then you would answer that this type of interagency collaboration is just not possible, nor a good idea.

But have you heard about the Seattle AIDS Walk and 5K run, scheduled for Saturday, September 22? Even though the walk is sponsored and organized by Lifelong AIDS Alliance, they have partnered with a number of other local organizations whose missions also focus on serving those in the community affected by HIV and AIDS, including Gay City Health Project, Bailey-Boushay House, and my good friends Rosehedge/Multifaith Works. According to Rosehedge Development Director Elizabeth, there have been arrangements of this sort in the past, too.

Everyone shares the ultimate goals of stopping HIV infection, helping those who are infected/ill, and finding a cure. It really is that simple, and it makes sense for them to work together. Doesn’t it?

It’s inspiring to me — though this type of arrangement may make the isolationist development person experience an anxiety attack.

And speaking of Rosehedge/Multifaith Works, they put together this little recruitment video for their team. This is proof that one does not need the expensive video production company to create a one-minute viral piece. This video reveals that they are trying to be careful with how they spend money and are trying to put together communication tools using the resources they have available. It’s engaging. And it’s fun! And cute! And CJ gets to push his boss-lady Elizabeth to the ground and beat her to the finish line!

Collaboration lives! And it lives forever!

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Pineapple upside-down cupcake REDUX

I was reminded by a friend this morning that there is a part two to the cupcake parable:

Everyone loved both versions of the cupcakes, some even saying that the first super-messy, hard-to-eat batch tasted better than the second, prettier batch.

What to take out of this, besides the reminder to research, contemplate, come up with work-arounds, deal with issues as they come up, consider earlier attempts and improve upon them, go back to the books and incorporate “classic” strategies, and don’t give up and opt for letting someone else do your job for you? The new lesson is that maybe the first attempt was not the failure you think it was, no matter how frustrated you were with the process or how you personally saw the resulting product.

In other news, I’m enjoying reading Tom Ahern’s newsletter/blog Ahern Communications, Ink, especially this post and this one. Tom specializes in cupcakes.

Pineapple upside-down cupcakes: a parable

We threw a birthday luau for a close friend today, and one of my responsibilities was to make pineapple upside-down cupcakes — her favorite Hawaiian dessert. I was happy to oblige.

I spent at least a week thinking about pineapple upside-down cupcakes. I had never made them before. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had never eaten one before (the big version, either). So I poked around in the world’s largest cookbook (Google) and found two recipes that were popular in the blogosphere: one from scratch and one using a box of cake mix as the base. Naturally, because I am an aspiring foodie, I chose to make the scratch recipe.

I swear, those cupcakes were cursed. First, a giant jar of maraschino cherries jumped to its death in the parking lot right outside the doors of Cash ‘n Carry. Then, it was discovered that I bought a can of pineapple chunks and not the crushed pineapple called for in the recipe. No big deal, except that my husband was standing next to me when I made the discovery, grabbed them from me, and pureed the heck out of them with our hand mixer before I could stop him. It was sweet of him to try to help, but he turned the pineapple chunks into pineapple baby food (try draining that!). Can you believe that after the pineapple baby food incident, I then discovered that our teenager went through a dozen eggs in less than 24 hours… and I didn’t have the six eggs I needed? So the score thus far is: one jar of dead cherries (but kindly replaced by the store), 16 ounces of pineapple baby food, and a midnight run to Safeway for eggs. Once the eggs are mixed into the batter, these cupcakes should be smooth sailing…


These cupcakes were an absolute mess! They rose too far above the pan and melded together, they were stuck to the inside of the pan, and they seemed to look much more “cakey” than the photo in the recipe looked. It was already after 1:00 am at this point, so I decided to throw in the towel and go to bed. I would have to buy a store-made cake on the way to the party, and chances are the cake would NOT be pineapple (we are in Seattle, after all).

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About building those new doors for opportunity…

My original intention  was to follow up yesterday’s post about (re)engaging your community, key stakeholders, prospective donors, and constituents with a list of suggestions to help as you Uncle Miltie, standing in front of what may be a door.brainstorm what (re)engagement means for your organization. I realize now the folly of trying to create such a list, honestly, in direct violation of advice I myself gave — every organization is different and there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. So why would I then come up with a list of suggestions that may have absolutely no value to your particular org, culture, or situation? So let me take a step back and discuss some of the overall concepts of engagement, and then it would be great to hear your ideas and what has worked for you. For the most part, these are common axioms in the development community, but they are worth repeating (and to cut down on the wordiness and need for inclusiveness, I will use “constituents” to mean your target audience, donors or otherwise):

  • Have a plan. I cannot stress this enough. Make. A. Plan. It can fit on a single sheet. It can be scribbled on a cocktail napkin and held together with tape. But write down your strategy and refer to it often. What happens if things change and you must deviate from your plan? Don’t throw it away! Remember that this is how life works: reassess the situation and revise the plan accordingly. In some ways, the plan will not only help you see where you are going, but it will help you track where you have been. What happens if you don’t have any written plan? (Re)engagement strategies as an ad hoc venture sounds about as efficient as running a development program with no strategic development plan. Here are some basic parts to your (re)engagement plan (and these could be categorized by activity/effort):

Who are your major players and what are their duties?
Who is your target audience?
How are you keeping track of contact reports?
What are your goals and objectives? Continue reading

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle

Lately, I have been hearing about organizations that are feeling lonely due to a perceived lack of “friends” (consistent annual donors, community supporters, etc). Some of these orgs have let their development/outreach programs hibernate due to crisis budgeting, some never had programs to begin with, and some seem to be spinning their wheels because “what has worked in the past” in no longer efficient in keeping friends engaged with the organization. This must be frustrating and probably a bit depressing… especially for those orgs that do not have much of a donor base.

In the words of Uncle Miltie: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” Start small, start building one door at a time, but you must start doing something. And you really should strategize – what are your goals and what are your capabilities?

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Are you an isolationist or relationship-builder?

Development professionals: how do you describe the work you do? Do you tell people that you raise/earn money for a good cause? Or do you tell them that you build relationships on behalf of a good cause? Do you find prospective donors and “sell” the organization to them? Or do you help connect prospective donors with opportunities that match their passions and interests?

Here is the crux of my post: do you see other nonprofit organizations that serve a similar clientele or focus on similar issues as yours as competition or partner? Foe or friend? Are you an isolationist or a relationship-builder? almost seems that the isolationist fundraiser sees the work they do and their arena in very limited terms, as if the community of prospective donors and friends can be likened to a birthday party pinata. When the pinata breaks, children scramble over each other to grab as much candy as they can, knowing that there is only a limited amount and once all of the candy is grabbed… it’s gone.

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