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Creating a Space for Nonprofits to Connect & Share Insights

By Sterrin Bird February 24, 2022

As a nonprofit industry advisor for Salesforce, everyday I speak with customers whose organizations are facing unprecedented challenges. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, everything changed for them in terms of how they connect with donors, supporters, and beneficiaries. And things are still changing, day by day and moment by moment. I watched it happen and I wondered: How can we at Salesforce help? Is there expertise we can share? Are there connections we can facilitate?

As it turns out, we can and we are. In May 2021, we created the CDO Council, a regular gathering of Chief Development Officers drawn from a diverse cross-section of nonprofits in North America. This big little idea was simply to hold space for CDOs to talk about what’s stressing them out and share experiences, ideas, and lessons learned with others who are facing the same challenges and finding their way through. Ultimately, we wanted to build a community of trust that CDOs can turn to for answers they can’t find anywhere else, on issues related to innovation, impact, fundraising trends, and change management.

Man attending a virtual work meeting
The goal of the CDO Council is to build a community of trust that CDOs can turn to for answers they can’t find anywhere else, on issues related to innovation, impact, fundraising trends, and change management.

And I’m thrilled to tell you that’s just what happened. The Council met five times between May 2021 and January 2022. Each meeting brought together 12 to 17 CDOs to hear a powerhouse industry expert speak on one of the many ultra-relevant topics that’s keeping them up at night. How do we raise money without in-person events? How do we connect with diverse donors? How can we retain talent? How can we use data to fundraise smarter?

  • In May, our inaugural speaker, Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, shared tips for how to maintain a connection to donors even without in-person events.
  • In July, Kathleen Loehr, author of Gender Matters: A Guide to Growing Women’s Philanthropy, spoke about how to attract and keep a more diverse donor base.
  • In September, Deb Taft, CEO of Lindauer, revealed how nonprofits can retain talent even during the Great Resignation.
  • In October, Kelley Stewart of nonprofit fundraising and marketing agency Pursuant showed CDOs how they can use data to improve and increase their fundraising.
  • And in January, Nathan Chappell of Donorsearch Aristotle offered insights on leveraging data, AI, and machine learning to bring the disciplines of marketing and fundraising closer together and create resonance with donors, customers, advocates and supporters.

Not only did CDOs embrace these opportunities to learn from speakers and connect with one another, but they have formed an active Slack community to share ideas and resources with each other in real time. Many attendees have told us of the enormous value they have found in these connections and how helpful they have been.

“I truly appreciated the opportunity not only to hear from Priya Parker on a timely topic, but also loved interacting and engaging with my peers who are doing life-changing work across the country… We are now embarking on the long process of both economic and emotional recovery, for our organizations, our teams … and ourselves. Sharing experiences, bonding as a community, and figuring out the “why” of our gatherings will get us there quicker – or at least make the journey along the way more enjoyable.”
     —Jennifer Schell Podoll, Senior Vice President, Autism Speaks

“I have enjoyed being with like-minded leaders on a consistent basis. Sterrin does a great job organizing speakers and facilitating discussion.”
     —Kim Slone, Executive Vice President, American Heart Association

“I’ve only attended one CDO Council meeting and it provided me insight into how to better invest in my most important revenue driver. Additionally, it put me in a position to better advance a key interest of my CEO. I also met some new friends and am grateful for the community.”
     —Alice Rodd O’Rourke, Chief Revenue CRO and Senior Vice President at Make-A-Wish America

At the most recent CDO Council, I asked attendees to share topics of interest for our future gatherings, as we plan to continue meeting six times a year. In the coming months, we’ll discuss peer-to-peer fundraising innovation, how to bring your Board on the journey to support innovation over affordability, mid-level and major giving and campaigning in this new world, cryptocurrency/NFTs and how they affect new giving and cause marketing, and customer stories of transformation.

I’m absolutely certain that every one of these gatherings will create insights and spark ideas that can help nonprofits forge ahead with greater confidence and success. Why do I know this? Because I believe in the power of conversation, connection, and creativity. Fundraisers need all the tools and support they can get to succeed in a slightly uncertain — but definitely exciting — future. The CDO Council is proof that we are always stronger together.

For more insight into nonprofit trends, download the fourth edition of our Nonprofit Trends Report.

About the Author

Sterrin Bird, Nonprofit Industry Advisor, Salesforce
Sterrin Bird
Nonprofit Industry Advisor, Salesforce

Sterrin is a nationally recognized leader in the nonprofit community, with nearly three decades spent working with some of the most prestigious organizations in the country, including UCSF Medicine, Duke Medicine, American Red Cross, United Way and the March of Dimes. In addition, she founded her own consulting practice in 2010.
Sterrin partners with organizations to ensure they can access the affordable creative support and counsel necessary to scale their operations — and their impact. She’s conducted more than two dozen capital campaigns throughout the United States with combined fundraising goals in excess of $5.5 billion. In 2020, she joined Salesforce as a Nonprofit Industry Expert.