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Build a Better Relationship with Your CEO

Jenny Love
Published:  02/03/2020

two people shaking hands

One of the most important relationships to cultivate for any chief development officer is the relationship with the CEO. As the importance of philanthropy to healthcare organizations’ bottom line grows, so too does the value of this relationship. Begin improving your own relationship with your CEO today with these recommendations from 130 CDOs who have been in your shoes. 

  1. Educate your CEO on the impact of philanthropy. It takes as much as $100 in patient revenue to equal the value of a $1 gift, and every $1 spent on philanthropy activities yields as much as $5.50 in revenue. Those are impressive numbers by any standard. Make sure your CEO knows them by heart. The more your CEO understands about the return on investment philanthropy brings to the table, the more time and energy they will spend helping you be successful.

  2. Know what keeps your CEO up at night. Operational knowledge is a two-way street. If you want your CEO to take an interest in your work, take an interest in theirs. The more you know about your organization’s goals and operations outside philanthropy, the more value you can add around the executive table, and the more likely you are to get a seat there.

  3. Communicate regularly and with purpose. recent study of CDOs indicated that those with the best relationships with their CEOs were more likely to communicate face to face than via email and had more informal interactions than CDOs with lesser relationships. Regardless of the type of communication, you’ll succeed the most if you focus on both critical information and on secondary goals, including educating your CEO about philanthropy and applying operational knowledge of your organization.

  4. Practice humble confidence. That may seem like an oxymoron, but self-awareness is a powerful tool in building strong team relationships, including the one with your CEO. Being humble does not mean being weak; in fact, it takes great courage to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Humble people are curious, open-minded, and never stop learning. Humility stops confidence from becoming arrogance.

  5. Demonstrate your value. Even as healthcare organizations rely more heavily on philanthropy, CDOs must overcome negative biases in the executive suite. Make sure your CEO is aware of your achievements, to be sure, but also spend time educating them on the strategy, science, and data behind the work of philanthropy. You are a lot more to your organization than a fundraiser.

  6. Be honest. In your interactions with your CEO, have a policy of “no surprises.” Being proactive to share important information, particularly about community and donor interactions and philanthropic contributions, is foundational to building a strong relationship. For example, always brief your CEO before donor meetings and events they attend on any potential issues that could arise. Practicing this type of honesty breeds trust, a trademark of effective collaboration.

  7. View your CEO as an “internal donor.” This concept underpins Strategic Relationship Cultivation and is one of the most productive approaches you can take to building strong executive team engagement. It involves adjusting expectations, planning a strategy, and investing time in the relationship, in the same way you would for a major external donor. Pay attention and respond to your CEO’s personality traits, communication style, existing knowledge and commitment level, and personal and professional experience and passions. 

AHP members can read a more in-depth analysis of the success factors for a strong CEO relationship in AHP Huddle

NEWS  /12/15/16
Ask yourself, am I being the kind of leader that I would want to follow?” said Dick Vollet, President & CEO of St. Paul’s Foundation
NEWS  /09/03/19
There has never been a more urgent need for new revenue streams — and we all know that philanthropy can be a powerful bottom line revenue driver. 
NEWS  /01/17/20
Tips for setting an agenda, inviting the right people, and making the most of the time you spend in conference rooms.

Meet The Author

Jenny Love

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