A vacuum of leadership

by | Oct 21, 2015 | Fundraising | 0 comments

Yesterday, our fundraising blog published a post that seems to have hit a nerve. The post is called Fundraising problems are LEADERSHIP problems.

Not hammering on leaders

The truth is, nonprofit leaders need to engage in fundraising. Too many think they can outsource fundraising to another – to a department, a person, a consultant. But donors want to connect with the people in charge. One of our CEO clients was even asked by a major gift prospect, “How long are you planning on being here? I invest in leaders, not organizations.”

This isn’t to hammer on leaders. Leading nonprofits is hard. And many executive directors were promoted because of their leadership in other areas: programs, mission, finance.

But the truth is: if your mission relies on donations, you need to get good at fundraising. You simply can’t outsource it. You can get help and hire people, but they’ll still need your leadership.

2 areas of fundraising leadership

There are two things leaders do that can make or break their nonprofit’s fundraising:

  1. Cast vision

    Leaders who cast a compelling vision help motivate donors and volunteers. The vision unifies. It brings together the board, the staff, and the supporters. But when there’s no clear vision, chaos erupts. Board members start trying to micromanage, staff members create fiefdoms, and donors leave in droves.

    Implicit in this casting vision is that you need to actually talk to donors too. Meeting donors and thanking donors are very important parts of this role.

  2. Keep learning about fundraising

    One of the worst things you can do to a fundraising professional is glibbly ask, “So, where’s my million dollar check?” That’s not how fundraising works. The second worst could be to tell them they need to recreate the Ice Bucket Challenge.

    As a leader, you need to keep up to date with fundraising. It could be subscribing to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Or reading blogs like our sister Fundraising Coach blog. But you need to have some regular input so you can talk knowledgeably to your staff and your board. You’ll learn the basics of how fundraising works. That fundraising really is a profession, with it’s own studies and certifications and research.

    You don’t need to become a fundraising expert. Your staff should be constantly growing, up-to-date on the latest research, and they should have the budget to support their professional growth. But you do need to know how talk more helpfully with your fundraising staff.

Fill the vacuum

Nature abhors a vacuum. In leadership, one of the largest vacuums is here in the area of fundraising. As a leader, you have an obligation to know what it takes to make your nonprofit work. The great news is that we no longer have to blindly try to raise money based on anecdotes or the latest fad a board member becomes enamored with. We can create systems that work.

Just taking the two steps above will do a long way to filling the vacuum.

The fact that you’re reading this proves you’re open to learning. A great place to start learning fundraising is by asking your staff what they would suggest you learn.

They may be blown away that you asked!


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