Susan Axelrod, CFRE PFR recently joined us for an episode of Bloomerang TV in which she shared ways to help your nonprofit CEO become an expert fundraiser. You can watch the full episode below:
Steven: All right. All right. Welcome. Hey, there. Thanks for joining
us for this episode of Boomerang TV. It’s a dreary day in Indianapolis, but
I’m happy because Susan Axelrod is here to brighten up our morning and our
afternoon. Hey there, Susan. How are you?
Susan: Good, Steven. How are you?
Susan: Great to be here.
Steven: Yeah. This is fun. Thanks for joining us for this quick chat.
Maybe for those folks who don’t know you, Susan, and maybe aren’t familiar
with your work, could you tell us a little bit about the things you do and
the projects you’re working on?
Susan: Yes. Absolutely. First of all, thank you for bringing your
technology expertise to the nonprofit world. This is so fun. It’s a really
helpful tool. Of course, I really want to thank Jay Love for bringing
Bloomerang to bloom, because I really feel, and I wasn’t paid to say this,
I really feel that it’s the exact right way to create the data support that
we need in fundraising for building relationships.
Steven: Well, thank you.
Susan: I just wanted to say that. Absolutely. I spent my first 16
years in my career as a practitioner, working in various arenas in
fundraising. I was lucky to get into fundraising my very first job out of
college. I got a fundraising certificate in my very first year, and I
became certified seven years later. In that year, I met the great and
wonderful Jerry Panas, who everybody in the field knows is the living guru
in major gifts and donor relationships. From that moment, I stole his
messaging. I stole his methods. Of course, he knows that. So I’m
working with organizations to help them create sustainable
programs with lifelong loyal donor cores.
Now, at this point, I’m moving into the field of philanthropy, working more
with organizations at a higher level with impact philanthropy, working with
individuals. But the projects that I’ve been working on recently, in part,
have led me to this conversation today about the nonprofit CEO. We’re going
to talk about that.
Steven: Yeah. Leadership. Right? I mean, leadership is something that
you work on. You work with a lot of nonprofits, helping out their
leadership. We had kind of a fun telephone conversation yesterday. We were
talking about the role of the nonprofit CEO or the president or ED, the
person at the top. You work with a lot of those folks.
What do you see is kind of the mist surrounding that position? A lot of
people have different definitions on what that person should be doing and
what that person’s background should be. What are your thoughts on the
nonprofit CEO and kind of the mist surrounding that position?
Susan: Well, thank you for asking, Steven. I’m so happy to be able to
say this. It is a myth that anyone can be a nonprofit CEO.
Susan: By that, I mean that people who are not trained in business,
who are not trained in organizational structure, organizational management,
talent acquisition, as we now call human resources, building a team. People
who have been a doctor or a social worker or a teacher, something happens.
They find a passion. They want to start a nonprofit, and they become…
right away, they’re the founder, of course, but right away, they’re the
Susan: So, then, I want to stay on topic here. So, it is a myth that
anyone can be a nonprofit CEO. So, that’s number one. It is a myth that you
don’t need to have a business plan as a nonprofit CEO.
Susan: I really feel I have to say that, because people who start out
these organizations, these wonderful, great, well-meaning people, don’t
have a plan. Then, they get in there, and they may bring good people around
them. Then, there’s something that happens where they don’t listen to the
good people they brought around them. That has to do with a tiny little bit
of ego, but it’s really not just ego. It’s really discomfort, because
they’re not trained.
Susan: It is also a myth that everybody will support my cause,
because it’s so passionate and so important to me.
Susan: It is a myth. Everybody won’t. The work is to find the people
who care the most about your cause. So, those are a couple of the myths.
Steven: Sometimes, that founder can be a good CEO. But sometimes,
they’re more that vision person, and they really need someone boots on the
ground to run the organization.
Susan: That’s right. Telling the story. Of course, of course, there
are good founder/CEOs…
Steven: Oh. Yeah.
Susan: …with experience in organizational structure and management
and sustainability. The founder who knows that they don’t have that exact
strength, I want them to stay the founder and stay the visionary and stay
Susan: And hire the ops person, a COO, for example, or whatever they
may become, the chairman or the CEO, whatever it is, to manage the
structure of the organization they’ve created.
Steven: Yeah. I think that’s really wise. Now, you’ve got a nonprofit
CEO. Fundraising is usually a task that falls to that person. Certainly, it
falls to everyone in the organization. Why is it important? Or do you
believe that that CEO should… You used the term “be a fundraising
machine.” How can a CEO do that? What are some things that can help a CEO
become a better fundraiser?
Susan: Okay. So, first, Jerry Panas says that the single most
important reason people give is because of their passion for the mission.
Susan: Then under that, one or two reasons later, the second or third
reason is respect for the leadership, the CEO and the leadership of the
organization. That’s a fact. We see this, the disappointment, when
something goes wrong at the head of an organization.
So, there is an art and a science to fundraising. It’s all about creating
authentic, sustainable, synergistic relationships with donors. That’s the
skill that I want to bring to the CEO. Also, this is the most important
thing. The CEO has to… It flows down from the CEO.
Susan: It flows down. I’m sure you’re aware. Maybe you’ll do a show
on this. In our world, in professional fundraising, we have a pretty short
tenure in organizations. Penelope Burk just did a great book on this, Donor
Centered Leadership. We’re still at like an 18 month tenure. Part of the
reason for that is because of the CEO who doesn’t get it, Steven.
Steven: Right. They don’t stick around. Yeah. There’s a lot of
responsibilities for the CEO. I mean, what’s the secret? It seems like
there are people who are born to be fundraisers, but it can be learned.
Right? I mean, a CEO can learn how to be a good fundraiser and do all the
things you talked about. What’s the secret to that?
Susan: Okay. Here’s the secret. This is so great. I love this. I
discovered this by accident through somebody asking me to do this. Now,
I’ve done it a few times. The secret is for the CEO or a board, if they get
it, to hire a personal fundraising coach for the CEO. Why? CEOs can go to
trainings, and that’s good. There’s fabulous trainings all over the place,
especially if they bring their staff with them. Jerry’s group lets the…
If the development person comes… By the way, I don’t work for Jerry. I
don’t get paid for any of this. I just believe in his work. He lets the
executive director come for free.
Susan: Yeah. But, the CEO, just like you just said, has to manage the
whole operation. They have to manage… If it’s a one person or a five
person staff, they manage everything. The work of fundraising, as you know
because Bloomerang is helping us and helping to support this, is about the
micro detail attention…
Susan: …and creating authentic relationships with people who care
and who you want to give the opportunity to support the organization. If
you hire a personal fundraising coach for a CEO, just like your coach in
your sports teams, you go and practice your regular commitment, the person
is going to come to the office or Skype right into the office. There’s
going to be a designated time, a few times a week, once a week, once a
month, whatever you decide. They have to… Of course, you have to have
somebody with a proven track record.
Susan: Then, they’re really going to get the passion and learn the
formula and the strategies to make it happen. I think that’s a big secret
that we want to share with people.
Steven: Is that something that doesn’t happen very often? Is that
Susan: No. Totally not.
Susan: Totally not. I feel like I’m the smartest person in the world.
No. I think that for a couple of reasons. Somebody who is already a CEO…
First of all, they’re supposed to know things. Right?
Susan: Right? They’re a CEO. They’re supposed to know things.
Secondly, there’s not, there are some fundraising coaches out there, and
there’s plenty of good ones. But, they’re not prolific yet. Third, the CEO
is doing so many things and already, well, for a certain size organization,
has limited resources. So, what are they going to use their resources on?
Are they going to use them on program?
Susan: On staff? What are they going to use it on? Well, here’s what
I want to say, Steven. If they don’t use it on fundraising, to create a
sustainable platform for their organization, the organization is not going
Susan: I just want to say quickly. I just worked with an organizer in
my office recently to go through all of my files and piles and things.
Believe me when I say, I was looking back over 29 years’ worth of work. I
said to the person, “I cannot believe the number of organizations I’ve
worked with over the years that are no longer in existence.”
Susan: When I was a practitioner or whatever.
Steven: Yeah. It’s sad. You talk about building authentic
relationships. That’s something that the CEO should be focused on,
primarily. What are some ways to do that? Is it having one-on-one meetings
with donors and major donors? Is it picking up the phone? Is it writing
handwritten notes? How does that actually, what’s that actually look like,
boots on the ground?
Susan: Okay. Yes.
Steven: All those things.
Susan: All those things. So, we do have to be realistic. We do have
to be realistic. What I want is for the development person to support this,
or the CEO to understand that they have to, they really do have to work top
down. They don’t have all the time in the world. The truth is, they need
the money. So, yes. The big volume at the bottom of the triangle, those are
important. But, we do want to keep the CEO’s time and attention and energy
geared towards the people who have the highest capability and highest
Susan: So first of all, I want to say look for that.
Susan: Okay? Secondly, how do you connect with them? Let’s see. I
don’t know. I was watching, I don’t know if it was one of your TV podcasts
or something else I was watching, talking about, oh. What’s her name?
Talking about the donor stories.
Steven: Oh. Vanessa. Yeah.
Susan: Yeah. Yeah. You did. She talked about the donor relationships
and how important that is. When I use the word “authentic”, I want it to be
an authentic connection with the donor. What do they care about?
Susan: Then, there’ll be a good giving opportunity for them to
connect with us. That’s really what it’s about. The authenticity is that I
really care about you as a donor.
Susan: And what do you really want to support? Then, making all those
connections. You can pick up the phone. You can text them. You can email
them. You can invite them for a one-on-one. I love the small group setting.
I love having a donor invite others to meet with the CEO of the
organization, because everybody doesn’t get to do that.
Steven: Right. Absolutely. You can leverage the CEO’s position for
Steven: I love the advice on having them concentrate on major gifts. I
mean, it makes sense, obviously.
Susan: Yeah. Exactly.
Steven: Well, we got about two minutes left. I know I want to give you
some time to talk about what you’re doing. But maybe as a last question, if
you could have one piece of advice to a brand new CEO, so someone who’s
just started the organization, what is your one piece of advice you would
give that person?
Susan: Okay. Can I say that it’s one piece of advice about
Susan: Okay. Because I work with nonprofit CEOs from the entire
organizational structure, building the board, et cetera, et cetera. So,
let’s contain this a little bit.
Susan: And say, the one piece of advice that I would give a new CEO
starting out in fundraising, honestly, I have to say it’s learn the craft.
Don’t think that you know the craft. There is a craft in the industry of
30,000 professionals and numerous organizations. Commit to the authentic
relationship with your donor. By the way, the other thing is run a good,
strong, fiscally prudent organization. That’s another topic for another
day. But, that’s what I would say.
Steven: That’s good. So, the CEO’s job is pretty easy. They don’t have
too much to do, is what I’m hearing.
Susan: No problem.
Steven: No big deal. Well, good. This was a lot of fun. Great advice,
as always. I’m not surprised to hear great advice from you at all. Got
about a minute left. Why don’t you tell folks where they can find out more
about you? Maybe where they can find you online?
Susan: Yep. Good. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I appreciate
it. My website is called What Will Your Legacy Be? My work, working from
the practitioner through the consulting. I teach. I train. My work is
evolving into what I call the world of philanthropy now. I have a workshop
that I’m doing locally, called Bringing Philanthropy into Your Life. My
work is to help people figure out what matters to them deeply, deeply
inside. Then, support what matters to you deeply. Don’t just engage in
responsive philanthropy. So, that’s really where I’m going. I do actually
have high level clients. It’s kind of secret. A lot of people don’t want to
know that they’re…
Susan: I do work as a fundraising coach. So, I am
available to do that. College deans are another group that I’m sort of
targeting, because college deans who want to become presidents have to know
how to ask for the million dollar gift.
Steven: Yeah. Sure.
Susan: So, as we can show people from this podcast, you can Skype
from anywhere in the country.
Susan: I’m available, and I’ll look forward to hearing from people.
Steven: Yeah. We’ll share your information on the blog. Susan, thanks
so much for joining us. It was a lot of fun.
Susan: Thank you, Steven. I appreciate it.
Steven: And thanks to everyone for watching. We’ll catch you next