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Powerful Messages from Your CEO

By September 22, 2010October 8th, 2014Communication, Engaging Your Board, Fundraising

powerfulmessages22Sep10Early Tuesday morning last week, I gathered seven CEOs from local nonprofit organizations to join me for a special messaging coaching session. My intention was to provide an environment for them to receive coaching & feedback from me and each other about how they share the message of what their financial “gap” is. Or “why do they need individual donors to give them money each year?”

The goal was to have everyone become more clear and compelling so more dollars can be raised from the community.

I had a couple of rules:
1. Each CEO was allowed to bring one guest from their staff so the lessons and coaching messages could be captured for future use.
2. They each had two minutes to deliver their message and inspire us and even compel us to take some action.

We kicked off the morning with a special guest via teleconference, Chuck, a CEO from a nonprofit in another state who really does a great job being compelling when talking about the funding gap for his organization. He shared some examples of times he’s been very clear about the funding gap and the outcome. Some of the time he’s been handed a check to cover the entire funding gap amount. In one story the check was for $125,000!

What Chuck and his team have learned is that their long-time supporters want to know what is needed so they can do more to help. When Chuck is asked how things are going at his organization he no longer says, “fine, or we’re really struggling.” Instead he says, “We are working hard to eliminate the $2 million funding gap we have for our programs this year.” He doesn’t ask for a gift, he simply shares the fact that funds are needed and often will share a short story about a consumer whose life is different because of a specific program.

As each CEO took their turn to inspire us at the special breakfast session last week there were some nerves and some good deliveries. Everyone experienced that two minutes goes by very quickly. Their varied deliveries reminded me that the CEO is the SOURCE of the message for an organization. If the man or woman leading the organization can be succinct and compelling, it’s more likely that the board and staff will be compelling too.

Here are some suggestions for CEO messages about the funding gap that will cause people to take action:

  • You must KNOW what your funding gap is overall and by program. Don’t guess.
  • Know your audience. In addition to the overall agency funding gap, different people will want to know about the funding for different areas of your work.
  • Talk more boldly about the numbers. Don’t shy away from mentioning a program has a $32,000 shortfall – but DO give a quick example or share a short compelling story about a real person whose life is affected by the shortfall.
  • Explain costs for programming to have listeners understand the value of their contribution and the impact a small amount can have.
  • Stay away from agency jargon: transitional housing, advocacy, etc.

A great suggestion: One of the attendees suggested that next time we hold a coaching session like this we should include at least one donor from each organization and welcome THEIR feedback about what they want to hear.

My recommendation: Do this yourself at your own organization. Invite a small group of donors in to provide feedback about your messages about what you need the money for. Ask them to help you get more clear and to help you shorten the length of your message so you can share it in two minutes or less!

Pictured in the photo (left to right): Carol Arthur, Domestic Abuse Project; Eric Nesheim, Minnesota Literacy Council; me; Doug Johnson, Center for Victims of Torture; MayKao Hang, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation; Ann Rooney, The Whole Learning School; Lee Blons, Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation; and Alan Arthur, Aeon


  • First of all, you make a vital point in stressing that CEOs must be effective messengers. All too frequently, it’s assumed that is the case, when it’s not. So thanks for getting that out into the open.

    What a fantastic strategy – getting folks away from their desks to learn together in a small coaching environment that enables them to practice what they’re learning. Not surprised that it was a hit.

    Like you, I’m big on marketing and fundraising advisory boards, drawn from the very folks you hope to engage.

    Thanks for sharing this experience, Lori!

  • Lori Jacobwith says:

    You’re welcome, Nancy. I love sharing my experience with people and hope everyone can learn from these posts. The session really was fabulous. Thanks for commenting!

  • My spouse found your site on Yahoo. You made some thoughtful points here. Well put.

  • Thx for the read and the compliment Medical Marijuana Mpls. Let me know if you’d like to receive my monthly enewsletter.

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