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Living a Double Life

As both a CEO and Development Executive, I exist in two competing realities demanding extremely different skillsets. However, instead of playing Jekyll and Hyde, I connect the executive functions of strategic planning with the departmental skillsets of grant writing and program development. In today's competitive funding world, the executive who becomes adept at practicing cross-functional, multi-disciplinary work skills will realize the biggest asset in driving organizational growth.

How can a CEO “grow” to become the type of leader adept at controlling both the short- term balance sheet and long-range funding goals? Clearly, it can be tricky. In fact, The Chronicle of Philanthropy ( indicates that executives are not proactively learning about development skillsets because “too many nonprofit leaders don't understand fund-raising.” Instead, allowing the nonprofit executive a more authentic understanding of their nonprofit's mission and capabilities, could play a significant role in jumpstarting engagement in grant development. In fact, after interviewing several chief executive, development and grant seeking officers, a common set of proactive strategies emerged. With smaller organizations in mind, I have compiled a list of ways to introduce your CEO into the grant function, allowing the organization's leader to better understand the strategic opportunities and constraints faced by development staff.
How can a nonprofit executive be groomed to become a dynamic grant development asset? Simply, a CEO must experience the “hands on” role of a grant writer. First, make certain development staff know the current strategic plan, including annual operating budget and balance sheet. Development staff should try to align their operating plan to meet or exceed the strategic plan. Second, establish a set of meetings to engage the executive in ideation and feedback sessions reviewing successful funding opportunities and those grants which were “close misses.” Third, present a selective list of 25+ grant possibilities to the executive and ask him/her to review the thumbnails. This offers a perspective on the grant seeker's skillsets, and his/her understanding of the organization's mission. Fourth, assign the executive some key objectives or mission-based paragraphs used in the common grant application, and make sure to give him/her some samples used by the organization. The aim is to draw the CEO into the “real world” of grant development, with relevant examples of proposals which might pique his/her interest. Anne Maxfield of Anne M. Maxfield LLC, notes, “This strengthens the collaborative partner relationship, keeps staff partners interested in the grants program, and will ultimately lead to more grant awards.” If this strategy sparks a more collaborative spirt, offering engagement and interest, you will have a CEO who considers the development department a value-added opportunity, rather than a cost-center.
And what is the CEO's role in all this? How might development and subordinate staff benefit by having an executive serve as a coach, mentor, and guide? As YMCA of Greater Cincinnati CEO Jorge Perez says, such interaction is pivotal since it allows “Front line leaders to develop the ability to communicate with these strategic roles. It offers both organizational stability and sustainable programmatic funding that will make us relevant for years to come.” In fact, he adds, the YMCA offers its leaders fundraising basics by having, “financial development taught as a fundamental skill, so most Y CEO's are already familiar with fundraising.”
Encouraging communication, engagement, “hands on” learning, and offering clear objectives are just a few ways CEO's can better understand and serve as a strategic asset to grant professionals. Such skills create a more seamless working relationship between strategic and front-line staff providing even greater and more dynamic opportunities for their stakeholders.
How might you encourage your CEO to become more involved in grant development?
Mary Welsh Schlueter is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the 501(c) 3 nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, Partnership for Innovation in Education ( and CaseLAB® Curriculum delivering transformational, educational tools preparing the 21st century workforce for success in the global marketplace. PIE delivers cutting-edge curriculum in STEM fields using skillset credentialing and industry certification for 7th-12th grade students in emerging career pathways. Ms. Welsh Schlueter lives in Cincinnati, with her husband, four children and two Siamese cats, Zig and Zag.



By: Mollie
On: 05/14/2019 10:39:14
Using the CEO's strength and interests seems to work well for me. Since our president is highly relational and visionary, I take him on foundation visits with me. I also try to keep reminding him of the larger picture, something he can connect to so that he sees the purpose in the small details of grant submissions.

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