Part 1: What is great fundraising leadership – and why don’t we see more of it?

I’m just back at my desk after a fun and productive few days in Ottawa, meeting with fundraisers from across Canada for the Association of Fundraising Professionals Leadership Retreat.

From BC to Newfoundland and Labrador, we were all talking about the same urgent issue – the leadership gap in the fundraising, and how to bridge it.

Doing a deep dive into the topic of nonprofit leadership got me thinking – what is great leadership in fundraising, and why aren’t we seeing more of it?

Great leaders look inward, as well as outward

The best leaders I’ve met are masters at self-reflection.

In addition to having a strong vision for their organization, they are constantly looking inward to understand themselves better.

They identify ways in which they need to continue developing, and recognizing the impact their behavior has on their team as a result of the power they hold.

Increasingly, a lot of the great leaders I encounter are talking about having a regular self-refection practice – whether it’s mindfulness meditation, or scheduling time each week for introspection.

Great leaders prioritize and model self-awareness, and are committed to self-improvement through lifelong learning.

Strong leaders invest in their team

I’ll never forget a woman I met at a conference a few years ago – not only did she have to pay for her own professional development, she had to use her vacation days to attend!

I can’t think of a more effective way for an organization to send a message about how little they value their staff.

Now, I’ve worked with small shops for over 20 years now, so I know budget can be a barrier – but investing in improving the skills and knowledge of your team can produce some serious return on investment when it comes to fundraising.

But don’t take my word for it – recent research conducted by Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, Dr. Rita Kottasz and Dr. Adrian Sargeant has found a strong correlation between training and educational opportunities available to staff, and overall fundraising performance.

In fact, the research showed that each additional form of training/education provided to fundraisers is associated with an increase of $37,000 in income.

You can't ignore the fact - investing in professional development has a measurable return on investment (not to mention the great ROI on retaining your fundraising staff - something our sector is not exactly renowned for...)

Strong fundraisers are not always strong leaders

I think it's important to note here that strong technical fundraising skills are not necessarily the same as strong leadership skills.

All too often, fundraisers are promoted simply because they excel at bringing in revenue.

We’ve all seen the same thing happen – a successful fundraiser is promoted into a leadership role, only to struggle with effectively leading their new team (and that’s probably putting it politely!)

We need to get better at spotting our future leaders and understanding the core competencies that great leaders need – because the most effective person for the job may not be the fundraiser who’s blowing away their targets every year.

There's a brand new report available from the Ontario Nonprofit Network that identifies the core competencies we need to look for in our future leaders. It's a valuable resource for anyone interested in the issue of leadership in our sector - which must be you, if you've read this far!

Next week, in the second part of this series, I’ll be looking at why we don't see more great leaders in fundraising, and why we're facing a perceived shortage of fundraising leaders.

You can subscribe to my updates to have it delivered straight to your inbox - looking forward to sharing more leadership thoughts soon!

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Subscribe for weekly fundraising content
Search By Tags

FREE MASTERCLASS: How to Raise More Major Gifts Without Face to Face Meetings