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Advanced Executive Forum August 15, 2017 Summary


Advanced Executive Forum

August 15, 2017

Jonathan Club, DTLA


  • Leslie Ito, President & CEO, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center
  • Lorri Jean, CEO, Los Angeles LGBT Center
  • Claudia Looney, Senior Consultant, CCS Fundraising

Moderator:  Edward Lin, JD, CFRE

On August 15, 2017, a panel discussion on generative leadership was convened at the Jonathan Club, the second in a two-part Advanced Executive Forum focused on this essential topic.  The panelists selected represent decades of nonprofit executive experience and success in the Greater Los Angeles area with organizations large and small. It was a lively, humor-filled discussion in which much practical advice and industry-relevant wisdom was shared. Panelists detailed how they perpetuate the fundraising profession, build successful teams, ensure sustainability and encourage continuity.  Key points are summarized below.

Staff Turnover: Still A Major Challenge

Mitigating development staff turnover continues to be an issue for organizations of all sizes. Monetary compensation is only one (albeit important) aspect of the solution: leadership sensitive to staff needs is essential. Creating a career path within the organization helps, but is not always possible in smaller organizations, and even in larger ones, junior positions can be hard to keep filled. Advice from the panel:

-          When hiring and retaining staff, put effort into exploring the individual’s passion for the organization and its mission, especially where promotion and salary increase options are limited

-          Where possible, help new staff to map a career path to advancement within the organization (and higher pay grades) so they understand there are options

-          Offer professional development: pay for training, encourage staff to attend AFP conferences

-          Employ a system to measure development staff performance as is done in higher ed fundraising: this provides concrete numbers to justify raises and other perks

-          Spend time with junior staff to get to know them better as part of retention strategy; establish and maintain open communications. Mentor them

-          Help quality employees with passion for your mission to “find the right seat on the bus.” May have to move them around. Promoting from within, especially women, people of color, and those with little or no development experience can be effective in building a more diverse team

-          Despite best efforts, small organizations often lose staff to bigger operations offering higher pay. When staff expresses a desire to move to another organization, have an honest and open conversation and encourage them to ask good questions about the other job to ensure they are moving to a good fit. Help them to keep the door open to returning in the future (as a more seasoned, skilled employee). We’re in the relationship business and it’s a small world: you never know how your investment may return dividends in the future

-          Think long-term: you may not get to enjoy the payoff of decisions made now in the best interests of the organization [this is an essence of generative leadership].

Staying Passionate And Focused As Leaders

Fundraising is difficult work; to remain effective, one has to care for oneself. The panelists recommend:

-          Encourage your staff to take vacation – and you take yours, too! It’s there for a reason, you need to refresh

-          Rekindle your passion for your organization by taking on projects that stoke your passion, even if not directly related to your job responsibility

-          Find and encourage work-life balance

-          Spend time with colleagues and engaging in AFP and other professional organizations

-          Lead by example, show appreciation in small ways often and regularly: fresh roses in the women’s restroom, for example

-          Be aware that organizations have cycles – what you can do at a given time depends on whether yours is in refreshing mode or survival mode

Does The Board Have A Role In Generative Leadership?

The primary role of the board is to maintain a “big picture” view of the organization and ensure the CEO is performing successfully. But, the board can be engaged in ways that enhance generative leadership. Assigning staff to work with board members can be rewarding for staff, who enjoy access to (often influential and connected) board members, and board members who enjoy the opportunity to mentor. 

Hiring and Managing Development Staff

Claudia’s 7 ‘F’s for hiring staff:

  1. Focus on priorities:  we can do lots of things right, but we must focus on the right things to do.
  2. Fast and responsive: Our donors and prospects expect a fast response, in this world of emails, Instagram and texting.
  3. Friendly: create networks internally and externally, and manage relationships with prospects, donors, volunteers, and your colleagues in the right way.  With each you will have a different relationship.
  4. Flexibility:  One thing you can always count on, is that change will happen often. 
  5. Fundamentals: pay attention to detail, like correct spelling.  The quality of your work reflects on the organization you serve
  6.  Fundraising and being a Fiduciary: after all, raising money is at the core of our jobs! And we must also use the donor’s gift wisely and as intended.  It is about practicing ethical fundraising at every turn.
  7. Fun: have fun at work, because we are working way too hard, not to enjoy what we are doing.

Lorri added the 8th: Fatigue!

-          A good fundraiser is not necessarily also a good manager. Often wise to invest in coaching for fundraiser managers; has seen positive results when she has done this

-          Sometimes it is appropriate to take a chance on someone new. There are some things you can teach and some things that can’t be taught: Lorri likes to hire people with those essential qualities that can’t be taught and train them, if necessary

Multi-generational staff considerations:

-          Keep in mind cultural differences when managing staff, differences in style, communication preferences and expectations

-          Nurturing and giving access and bringing new voices to the table is important, especially as the demographics of a community evolve

Who Inspired These Panelists

Each of our panelists was encouraged and inspired by someone early in her career that has had a lasting impact, who shared lessons that continue to inform her decision making process today. Aspire to be that, to do that for someone else – that’s generative leadership.


We sincerely thank the panelists for their generosity in sharing their time and wisdom, and express gratitude to all those who supported this event by attending.