CLA Preview: Seven Habits of Highly Effective CDOs

At Masterworks we are blessed to be able to work across the non-profit industry. Personally, I’ve been privileged to work with more than 50 national and international ministries. In that time, we’ve had a front-row seat to see the most effective heads of development in action.

At the Outcomes Conference in just a few weeks, I’ll be sharing seven of the best habits I’ve seen among the most highly effective CDOs in the world. Today, I’ll give you a sneak peek at one of those habits.

Habit #3: They leverage “natural assets”

The best development leaders in the world recognize that every organization has what I call “natural assets.” Natural assets are things that are unique to that organization, and with a bit of creative thinking, they can be leveraged to drive results, fundraising, and ultimately drive ministry impact.

On the flip side, ineffective CDOs spend their time being jealous of others’ natural assets. They think, “if only I had a really dynamic CEO personality I could really do things,” or “if only my organization had a national network of local affiliates,” or “if only my organization had celebrity relationships,” or…you get the picture.

My advice — STOP getting caught up with what you don’t have, and take a fresh look at your entire organization to see what you do have.

Some questions to ask yourself when considering what natural assets your organization might have that you could leverage:

  1. What spheres of influence does your organization inhabit? Leave no stone unturned — don’t just stop with your CEO and senior leadership. Who is your program leadership connected with? How about your IT folks? Marketing or communications people? You might find you have a concentration of influence in government, or entertainment, or media, or business, or technology, etc.
  2. Who knows whom? If in doubt, never underestimate the power of an all-staff, or all-leadership email. “Does anyone know anyone at XYZ organization or in ABC industry?”
  3. Where is your organization located? Often your region or regions can be a natural asset. For example, Masterworks is in Seattle. Seattle is a hub of creativity and technology — companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook all have a significant presence here. We can tap into that presence — via relationships, partnerships, hiring, and so on.
  4. How is your organization structured? Do you have outposts of some sort all over the country/world (chapters, affiliates, points of distribution)? Is your volunteer base concentrated in one geographic region or all from a similar sector? And so on. Often development people totally miss the reach that their organization has because they aren’t thinking about the whole
  5. Are there any communications/content assets you could better integrate with? Does your organization have touchpoints with donors and prospects that are not in your department, but that you could cross-promote or integrate with? This isn’t to say if you have a magazine or broadcast, for example, that it should now become fundraising focused. But how can you support the fundraising message and vision, and incorporate fundraising-related content, etc.?
  6. Is there some sort of economic engine outside of traditional fundraising that you should tap into? Not all revenue comes from donors — sustaining, general, mid, major and planned gifts. Sometimes a ministry will have other opportunities to support the work of the ministry if you leverage them — examples might include licensing fees, product sales, membership dues, subscriptions, partnerships with other ministries, grants/foundations for capacity-building, and so on.

And don’t forget to examine your organizational culture and history. Are you entrepreneurial? Risk-taking? Advocacy-driven? Founded by a major donor? Founded by a celebrity? What is your historical best economic engine — sponsorship, staff support, sustaining giving, major gifts? Etc. etc.

Summed up — stop being jealous of what other organizations have, and start thinking about what assets you have naturally. Look for ways to leverage those natural assets to greater and greater effectiveness.

If you’re at CLA, you are welcome to learn more and register for the CDO Summit here.