We have never been more in need of good fundraising leadership than we are now.
At Astarita Aldrich & Ward we work every day with charities who are trying to achieve transformational change in their fundraising performance in a market that’s never been harder. There are a long list of challenges that these charities face but the difference between success and failure can usually be narrowed down to a single key factor, leadership.
So what makes a great fundraising leader? There’s no standard template to follow. If I think of the inspiring leaders I have known they are an incredibly diverse bunch with a truly eclectic range of backgrounds and personalities. They range from outrageous extroverts to extreme introverts. From the very posh to the very not. I can think of people who started as accountants and actors, barrow boys and bankers. Carpenters, and I’m running out of alliteratives here.. But you get the point. It’s a wide field.
What do the best leaders in our field have in common? I think there a five things that every great fundraising leader I have known share:
You can’t do this job if you don’t believe in what you’re doing. This has to come from the heart or no one will follow you. If you don’t believe in the cause you’re promoting, find one that does inspire you or go and sell insurance. Or something.
Fundraising only works if you go out and make stuff happen. You have to be really brave, ready to be knocked down and get up with a smile. It’s about getting past the 99 nos to get to the Yes. And persuading your team that this can be done.
Fundraising leaders are a tough bunch. They work in very imperfect organisations where even simple things can be very hard to achieve. There’s never enough time or money. Results are expected immediately. Boards, senior managers and services teams don’t want to think about the dirty business of getting funds. And then they have to motivate their teams to go out and ask strangers to give them money for nothing in return except a warm feeling. Lots of things can, and do go wrong. The fundraising leader has to be the one who isn’t phased by all the problems and manages to focus everyone on the goal.
Fundraising isn’t about you. You are not the beneficiary and you are not the audience. You don’t have all the wisdom and you don’t have the best ideas. The best leaders are those who can submerge their own ego and bring people together to create change jointly. Successful fundraisers aren’t rock stars. They are the people who put the performance together.
Spin and bullshit can work for a time in fundraising. You can get donors on a dodgy proposition and persuade people to follow fairy tale strategies. But only for a while. Long term success only comes from developing and maintaining strong relationships and these have to be founded on trust and truth. The best leaders I know speak honestly to their teams, their colleagues and supporters, trusting them with the reality of the situations charities face.
Whatever their backgrounds, exceptional fundraising leaders combine these characteristics in very different ways to deliver success. They’re never enough of them and we need to value the ones we have.