Executive Director Love

Executive Director Love

Two conference speakers wearing suits and ties and seated next to each other: a white man listening to an African-American man who has the floor.

Show an executive director love through supportive detachment, compassion and clarity. Image by New America on Flikr under Creative Commons licensing. [Image is of Ben Dubow, Chief Operating Officer of Omelas (left) looking at Muhammad Fraser-Rahim, Executive Director, North America, Quilliam International.]

Executive Director Love

Do you want to love your executive director? Here’s how.

I wrote this post inspired by a question.*

Do you have a great relationship with your executive director?

This post is why and how my answer is YES.

I mostly consult and coach by the hour. I also fundraise quarter-time for Living Room Conversations. (Here’s a piece I wrote about a Living Room Conversation I participated in recently.)

I have a great  relationship with my executive directors, the co-founders of Living Room Conversations. I can honestly say that I love them. Here’s the basis of our relationship:

  1. Detachment
  2. Compassion
  3. Clarity


Detachment is essential to my being able to speak my truth to my executive directors. If I speak with detachment, I can say just about anything that’s true for me and not worry about how it is going to be received. Detachment means I convey what I need to convey without adding my own heavy emotions to any of it. This means what I say is easier for my executive directors to take and to use.

Love the Messenger

“Killing the messenger” is common in fundraising. Fundraisers have access to a lot of the dirt on organizations. They meet donors, read mail, hear the buzz on social media and generally track the organization’s relationships to other people, organizations, and to its funders and donors.

If a fundraiser’s afraid of losing her job because of speaking a truth, she may not speak it at all, may wait to speak til it’s too late, or may tell only a few peers and not the executive director at all.  (This, for me, is gossip and not truth-telling.)

I don’t fear losing my job. You could say, sure, that’s because you can leave at any time. True: I have the job security of insecurity. So do you: a fundraiser stays in her position on average only 16 months! That fundraisers can “leave anytime”–and do–hurts everyone: fundraisers, organizations, other staff (including executive directors), Boards, and donors.

If you might lose your job for telling the truth, and the statistical likelihood is you will leave soon anyway, why not try detachment and telling the truth and see if you can help change? Compassionately and with detachment.

Most lying about fundraising is due to fear and that love casts out fear. You don’t have to love your executive directors to tell them the truth: you have to love something–the truth, your donors, the people you serve, your cause. Love will make you strong enough to tell the truth.


You may have noticed in the above that my detachment expects people are going to receive what I tell them with a suite of reactions. They may love or hate or avoid or rationalize what I say but since I am paid to raise money for them, and since I don’t back down but I also detach, they have the space to have their feelings (react) and then work with me to change things (respond).

In other words, I have compassion for my executive directors.  What a relief that I don’t have their job! I have an important job as a fundraiser, but I am not the point-person the public or a Board of Directors single out when times get tough–and they do. People with less power may sometimes appropriately have compassion for people with more power.


Clarity means I know what I am talking about, and why. I have facts and reasons to back up what I’m saying. I have evidence or at least true stories to share.

Clarity also means I know the stakes. I know why I’m bothering to convey information or opinion. I know how important it is for what I’m bringing to be taken seriously or ignored. Sometimes, if I’m honest, it’s just not all that important. And it can be let go.

Clarity also means I have an idea of what to do about what I’m sharing. It’s not always my job to make a decision about it. But I come to my executive directors prepared to work with them to help work it out.

Further Love

Detachment, compassion and clarity also make for a great fundraising relationship with

  • donors
  • volunteers
  • other staff.

They also make for a peaceful, ethical relationship.  And they are the basis for peaceful, ethical relationship to money generally.

*The question is the title of an article by my favorite fundraising thinktank, Sea Change Strategies.  Here is a free download of my published article summarizing their published study on mid-level donors (with their blessing). (Their study is available free here.) For all my  published articles, click here.

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