Partners in Philanthropy   Partners in Philanthropy
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Keys To Success In Development

Winning principles to guide you, your CEOs, and your board

During the Renaissance, the concept of humanitas, or self-fulfillment, emerged. It is perhaps best defined as an interior drive to push the self to the highest possible achievement.

As development professionals who strive to be successful, fulfilled people, we know that the concept is as meaningful and important today as it once was. We also know that it is our responsibility to help our CEOs and board members achieve success as well.

In bringing new members onto a board or working with them to raise funds, a primary challenge is to help them understand the development discipline. Typically, their frame of reference to the organization has been patient care or financial operations. Their exposure to fund raising generally has been limited to special events, direct mail, and telephone solicitations. For a board to be effective in fulfilling its critical responsibility to raise funds, however, members need a conceptual framework for success. The keys to success – leadership, vision, structure, strategic planning, and adequate resources – help build that framework. They also define the fundamental roles of board members, CEOs, and development directors.

Leadership and vision

Leadership is the single most important success factor in any organization. Leadership inspires trust, builds people's confidence in the organization, and leads individuals to invest time and resources. Outstanding leaders inspire the hearts and minds of others and create enthusiastic followers.

What makes a leader? According to Fred Manske, author of Secrets of Effective Leadership, leadership is a learned, not innate, ability. "Leaders," he says, create a positive attitude or force in their organizations. They do this through the strength of their commitment and vision, by their personal vigor, and by the creation of the feeling that good things are happening. Leadership in this sense provides hope and meaning for employees; the employees begin to believe that their own future goals can be realized through the organization's goals."(1) The same holds true for volunteers, board members, and donors.

In the most effective development operations, the CEO, board chair, and development director share leadership. Leadership implies power. Many leaders have difficulty sharing power, however, because they mistakenly believe that doing so means giving up some or all of it. In reality, their power is enhanced when they effectively collaborate with others to accomplish the organization's vision.

The primary responsibility of CEOs is to create a vision for the organization – a vision that includes the opportunity for the community to participate financially. Vision is the irreducible essence of leadership, the means by which leaders transform good intentions into commitment. It is the determinant of superior performance. This is the CEO's primary function; it cannot be off-loaded to anyone else.

CEOs must incubate the vision. It cannot be initiated by board chairs, development directors, or anyone else. CEOs must share their vision with passion and conviction, attracting and inspiring others to invest themselves and their resources to bring it to fulfillment. Their vision illuminates a clear understanding of the organization's highest possible potential. Organizations blessed with visionary leadership can achieve monumental ambitions. Without it, development results will be, at best, mediocre.

Vision is an amalgam of many perspectives. The typical not-for-profit health care organization has many constituencies – the community-at-large, patients and their families, medical staff, employees, third-party payors, regulators, donors, vendors, etc. CEOs must be in touch with each of these groups and listen attentively to their needs and desires. Because the groups embody varying and sometimes conflicting perspectives, CEOs must weave together a vision that speaks to their respective interests. CEOs must then communicate the vision with a sense of urgency that calls all constituencies to action.

The power of CEOs flows from their ability to articulate the vision for the organization. They realize that vision without action is merely a dream, and action without vision just passes time. Vision with action can change the world.

Board members exhibit their leadership by challenging CEOs to expound the vision, openly share pertinent information and data, and represent the views of all constituents. No one else is in a position to hold CEOs accountable. The power of the board rests in its charge to ensure that every not-for-profit organization operates in the public trust. They must understand that development is an essential responsibility of the board and also a part of its public trust.

Board members function as peers to the CEOs. If they allow CEOs all of the power, they will be unable to work proactively and will become passive. Further, if they do not feel intimately involved or invested in the organization, they eventually will lose interest in it and will continue to serve only if their positions hold prestige in the community.

Board chairs hold each board member accountable. They ensure that all board members fully participate in the work of the organization by sharing their expertise and experiences, and by establishing goals and priorities to accomplish the vision. Board chairs induce their boards to reach consensus and take action. They make the organization a personal priority and demonstrate commitment through the sacrifice of time and financial resources, and the willingness to capitalize on their relationships with donors.

The third partner in this shared power base is the development director. The leadership role of development directors is the most difficult to establish, particularly within health care organizations. People within and outside an organization naturally look to the CEOs and board chairs for leadership, but not so with development directors. Therefore, leadership must be ceded by CEOs and board chairs; development directors cannot exercise leadership without their authority.

CEOs and board chairs expect development directors to make the most efficient and effective use of their time, which is their greatest personal resource. The wise use of their time results in the cultivation, solicitation, and realization of gifts that significantly impact the organization's vision. This, in turn, adds to the credibility of development directors, who are then given greater authority, power, and access to CEOs and board chairs, with which they produce even greater results.

Development directors represent the emotional and spiritual aspects of the organization to donors. They demonstrate leadership by articulating the organization's values, personal commitment to the mission, and relationships with others. Development directors maintain focus on the "big picture," while ensuring that the underlying details are attended to. They are the driving force that provides the energy for the development function – leading people where they want to go.

Development directors coach CEOs and board members, as well as development staff. They help all individuals improve their performance in securing contributed financial support for the organization's goals. In Coaching for Improved Work Performance, F.F. Fournies lists four reasons why people do not perform the way they should:

1) They do not know what they are supposed to do.
2) They do not know how to do it.
3) They do not know why they should do it.
4) There are obstacles beyond their control.(2)

Development directors must remove these reasons for failure. They perform a crucial leadership function for volunteers by demonstrating how to succeed in an area in which they are, at best, experienced amateurs. Lastly, development directors demonstrate leadership through their sheer determination and persistence. When doubts arise, disappointments strike, the odds seem overwhelming, and goals appear out of reach, development directors persevere. As Calvin Coolidge once said:

"Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; rewarded genius is a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."


As with leadership, structure in this context has three parts. For a partnership to exist between CEOs and development directors, a direct reporting relationship is imperative. Ideally, the development director's office should be near the CEOs office rather than in a remote or off-site location. Development directors should be members of the senior management staff. This assures that the development perspective is represented in strategic planning and operations. Likewise, development directors should be present at all board meetings because development is a fundamental board responsibility. Positioning the development director in these capacities is a clear, visible message to both internal and external constituencies of development's importance to the organization. This is especially important in health care organizations when contributed income represents a small portion of operating income.

Boards, in turn, must structure themselves for maximum development effectiveness. Articulating a vision, creating a strategic plan, and establishing contribution goals are all functions of the board. The board, in its entirety, is responsible for development. It cannot delegate this function to another committee or even separate foundation board. Each board member is responsible for giving, serving as an advocate of the organization, providing access to major gift prospects, and taking an appropriate role in solicitations. The board, as a whole, must demand accountability from its members and its various committees.

Too often, a health care board will devote most of its time to areas in which members are most comfortable – reviewing operational performance, managing or monitoring investments, establishing spending policies and procedures, and other business issues. This is a natural tendency because health care organizations are commonly perceived primarily as businesses and secondarily as charities. Structure helps to maintain the larger focus.

Accordingly, the board should have at least these standing committees:

  • a board membership committee to identify, recruit, orient, and educate members, as well as to provide for evaluation;
  • a development committee for annual development planning and execution; and
  • a major gifts committee to secure gifts that will significantly impact the organization.

In addition, a structure should be established for providing donors with avenues for genuine involvement in the life and future of the organization. This structure can include committees, councils, task forces, and clubs, as well as activities to engage them in the organization's vision. Fortunately, health care organizations offer ample opportunities for people of varying interests and abilities. The purpose of involvement is to channel their interests, talents, and energies. Their financial investment in the organization will naturally follow.

Strategic planning

Vision is the platform for strategic planning because it is the fundamental statement of an organization's values, aspirations, and goals. It binds people together to create something of value in the world. In Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf describes it as "the overarching purpose, the big dream, the visionary concept ... something presently out of reach ... so stated that it excites the imagination and challenges people to work for something they do not yet know how to do."(3)

Strategic planning focuses on the realization of the vision. It secures commitment to the vision. It cannot be delegated by the board to staff, nor can it be circumvented or compressed if the board is to develop ownership of the organization's vision.

In his book Vision, Joseph Quigley states that "growth is the fundamental purpose of strategic planning – the secret to the vitality of an organization – and survival is the reward."4 This is true for for-profit and not-for-profit organizations alike. Strategic planning forces the board to focus on priorities in order to achieve goals.

Active participation of all board members is essential to strategic planning. Each board member has skills and experiences that can be used in this process. All must feel free to ask for information, question assumptions, offer ideas and alternatives, and be critical in an analytic sense. Board members also must be confident that the process is an open one and that conclusions and directions have not been predetermined. Through active participation, board members develop ownership of the plan and its goals. Ownership generates a genuine commitment to the organization's vision that cannot be obtained in any other way.

The strategic plan will form the basis of the development program's annual operating plan prepared by the development director. Such a plan outlines the tactics by which the objectives will be met.


Finally, a successful development program requires resources adequate to the task. It should be measured as a return on investment, which is a familiar criterion in health care organizations. Results also should be measured as a return on the time invested by the CEO and board members.

The board should understand that continuity of competent professional staff is key to a development program's long-term success. Staff is responsible for developing and strengthening relationships with donors. Staff personalizes the organization to donors. Development staff are the link to the CEO, the administration and employees, and the constituencies that the organization serves.

CEOs will come and go; board members will rotate. Development staff provide continuity for the organization. Consequently, development staff who perform well should be well compensated so they will not be lured to other positions. These methods often don't conform to existing compensation policies in health care organizations. Introducing an exception to the system often meets with resistance among human resource managers, who have little understanding of the development function. Outstanding results should be recognized and rewarded.

A sufficient number of development professionals should be on staff. Surveys by AHP routinely document that organizations with large development staffs realize a greater return on investment.

Other resources include up-to-date technology, funds for travel and continuing education, memberships in professional associations, as well as sufficient budget for donor acquisition, communications, cultivation, and recognition. These expenses also are often the first to be reduced or eliminated during budget preparations or cutbacks on an indiscriminate basis among all departments.


The success of development professionals depends on working through others, particularly CEOs and board members. These are successful people who want the health care organizations they serve to be successful. They embody the concept of humanitas.

It is our responsibility as development professionals to help them understand the value of development to our organizations, to establish a clear vision for the future, and to give them the coaching they need to be successful. By providing them this conceptual framework of the keys to success, they will undoubtedly be more energetic and effective fund raisers. The results will be a health care organization with greater vitality and financial resources to better meet the needs of the community.


1 Manske, Fred. Secrets of Effective Leadership (Memphis, TN: Leadership Education and Development, Inc., 1987), p. 5.

2 Fournies, F.F. Coaching for Improved Work Performance (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1978), pp. 102-119.

3 Greenleaf, Robert. Servant Leadership (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1979), pp. 15-16.

4 Quigley, Joseph. Vision (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1993), p. 32.

Michael R. Maude, ACFRE, FAHP
Partners In Philanthropy

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