Managing the Relationship Between the Board Chair, the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Development Officer

By Dr. Scott Rodin    

The effectiveness of most every ministry relies on the health and quality of the relationship between the Board Chair, the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Development Officer.  Raising the funds needed to sustain and advance a ministry is, in its best configuration, a team effort involving all three people.

In my twenty-five years of not-for-profit work as a CDO, CEO, Board Chair and consultant, I have seen some ministries flourish and others implode as a result of the success or failure of these three relationships.  Among the most common failures are a lack of clear expectations by all parties, a lack of accountability to hold to those expectations, mixing roles and blurring lines of responsibility and authority, poor communication, and a lack of agreement on a theology of development and a philosophy of leadership.

This brief article will address the six relational components (see diagram) found in these three relationships and offer a set of expectations that can provide a guide to increasing the quality and effectives of these relationships.

The Board Chair (and the Board) should expect that the CEO will:

  • Understand and carry out the responsibilities for fundraising according
    to a personal theology of development.  The Board has a right to know
    (and ask for) an articulation of how the CEO understands the role
    of fundraising within the larger context of the overall ministry, and within
    his or her own understanding of the role of the CEO.
  • Hire a CDO with a compatible theology.  This agreement in theology is essential if the ministry is to build a solid team for successful development work.
  • Maintain a balanced workload to include the appropriate amount of time dedicated to fundraising.  This should flow out of a development theology.
  • Exhibit honesty and candidness with the Board in all areas, and especially with regard to the development work of the ministry.
  • Build a bridge between the Board and the CDO/development staff.  This is essential if the CDO is to be effective, and if proper working relationships
    are to be enabled and lines of communication are to be maintained between
    the development department and the Board

The CEO should expect that the Board Chair will:

  • Build and lead a board that understands and supports the ministry’s
    theology and practice of development.
  • Hold Board members accountable for agreed upon performance in development work.  Without this accountability, no development effort
    will succeed. Boards need decisive and intentional leadership to enable
    them to play their role in the success of the development plan.
  • Lead by example in giving and fundraising, and manage the Board to do the same.
    The Board chair sets the example for the entire organization.
  • Encourage the Board’s partnership in securing major/transformational gifts.
  • Develop a Board that is teachable.  Again the Board chair sets the tone for
    a Board that is open to learn and grow as an effective team.
  • Exhibit spiritual maturity and a thirst for spiritual growth.

The CEO should expect that the Chief Development Officer will:

  • Operate from a personal and professional commitment to development as ministry.  The CDO and CEO must be thoroughly united in their
    perspectives on Christ-centered development work and its place as a
    ministry of the organization.
  • Think and plan strategically.  The CEO must be confident that the CDO is
    out ahead of everyone else in the organization in development planning.
  • Use the President and Board strategically.  The CEO must have the
    confidence that the CDO has both the knowledge and the capability to use
    the CEO and Board Chair in an effective way.
  • Facilitate development education for President and Board.  The CDO is an educator and trainer and the CEO must have the confidence in his/her
    ability to do so.
  • Be a reliable and loyal partner.  The importance of loyalty to the CEO
    cannot be overstated.  Behind closed doors there must be openness and honesty.  In every other arena there must be loyalty.

The CDO should expect that the CEO will:

  • Lead according to their a personal theology of stewardship and
    development.  There should be no surprises for the CDO in how the CEO
    lives out the commitments to development work as ministry.
  • Advocate for the development department within broader organization and Board.  The CEO must be the champion of the development department and continually advocate for its role as a ministry in the organization.
  • Be willing to learn from the CDO and be used strategically in development work.
  • Trust the CDO.  If the CEO is to expect loyalty from the CDO, he/she must reciprocate by trusting the CDO implicitly.

The Board should expect that the CDO will:

  • Exhibit deep spiritual maturity and integrity.  This should be the single
    most vital component in this relationship.  If the Board, the CDO and the
    CEO are all committed to biblical stewardship and development work as ministry, then the spiritual maturity of the CDO and the development team should be the most valued component in this relationship.
  • Be competent in their skills and reliable in their work.  Confidence in the skills and character of CDO is second only to spiritual maturity as a
    critical part of the Board/CDO relationship.
  • Guide the CEO, helping him or her become a more effective fundraiser.  Simply put, the Board looks to the CDO to help the CEO become a better fundraiser.
  • Lead and support the Board’s efforts to meet development goals.  The
    CDO should play a significant role in helping the board set and achieve
    their specific development goals.

The CDO should expect that the Board will:

  • Provide the CDO with appropriate access to the Board to meet
    development goals.  It is vital that the Board Chair communicate through
    the CEO to the CDO the expectations and limitations in the CDO/Board relationship.
  • Cooperate in implementing development plans.  The Board chair must
    ensure that the Board is ready and eager to work with the CDO in setting
    and meeting development goals.
  • Be willing to learn and to let the CDO train the Board.
  • Develop a culture of spiritual growth and leadership within the Board.
  • Have confidence in and encourage the CDO and staff.

Finally, here are a few steps to take to help your ministry build stronger relationships within your leadership team.

  1. Agree to and communicate the expectations in all six directions.  Write them down, share them widely and gain consensus and ownership of these expectations.
  2. Set policy and budgets according to those expectations.  They must be integrated into the systems of the ministry.
  3. Develop reporting, measurement and accountability tools to support those expectations.  Know how to spot trouble early.
  4. When troubles arise, revisit the expectations.  Don’t let strained relationships endure. You have the expectations in place.  Use them to guide you out of difficulties that may arise.
  5. Adjust the expectations as needed to meet the strategic goals of the ministry.  As strategy changes, the expectations may need to change.  The expectations should be organic, yet once they are established to serve the strategic plan, they must be followed carefully, measured frequently and respected by all parties.

Developing stronger relationships in these six areas benefits not only the ministry, but most importantly it benefits the donors who support the ministry and those whom the ministry serves.  Donors have confidence in strong leadership teams, and ministries are more effective in carrying out their mission if these relationships are healthy and effective

Dr. Scott Rodin    

Dr. Rodin is the Founder and Content Expert of the Center for Steward Leader Studies. He also serves as President of Kingdom Life Publishing and Rodin Consulting Inc.

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