How can fundraisers be leaders within their organizations?
Read a transcription of a podcast produced by The Fund Raising School, narrated by Bill Stanczykiewicz, assistant dean for external relations and director of The Fund Raising School, and Dr. Amir Pasic, Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Bill Stanczykiewicz (BS): At The Fund Raising School, we teach that fundraisers should fundraise with confidence. Fundraisers also need to lead with confidence. Here to discuss that with us is Dr. Amir Pasic. He’s the dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Dean Pasic, thanks for being with us on this podcast. You have some good advice for fundraisers. They rarely are at the top of the org chart, and yet you believe they should see themselves as leaders. What advice do you have for fundraisers?
Amir Pasic (AP): Fundraisers should embrace that role of seeing themselves as leaders because they are essential to organizational success. They have to understand that they can make things happen and that they connect the official leaders with wonderful assets, or the relationships that support the organization. The most successful fundraisers are the ones who embrace leadership as a core part of their identity as their skill set.
BS: What about leading donors? What about that donor relationship? How can a fundraiser see themselves as serving the donor, but as a leader?
AP: I think they have to see themselves as the key connector or the key missing piece of connecting the donor to the organization. And they’re the ones who developed the relationships. They’re connected to the long-term health of the organization, and they have to see themselves as being that catalyst to make things happen.
BS: So they’re leading the donors to find out what’s happening at the nonprofit. What about in terms of leading up? The fundraiser rarely is at the top of the org chart. She or he is leading up to a CEO. How can a fundraiser do that in an effective way, knowing that the fundraiser does not ultimately have the authority all the time to make that final decision?
AP: Well, the analogy I think about is when we think about leadership, we often have these images of generals issuing commands. And I think we know that the leadership that really works is the kind that listens and understands the context, helps coordinate, and make things fall into place. So when you’re leading up, you need to understand who the leadership of the organization is, who your boss is, understand their needs. Coach them to understand what the donor situation looks like in your organization and help them appreciate what the options are and the strategic decisions that they have. And again, you are kind of revealing to them the path forward that’ll be successful.
BS: You’re the dean of a college. You have nine or 10 directors who report to you. Perhaps we can compare that as fundraisers are leading up to their CEO. How do you count on your direct reports? You have the big picture, and they each have their particular areas of expertise and interest. How do you count on them to report to you? What can fundraisers learn from your leadership style?
AP: Well, I count on them to be really owners of their own domains in many ways. They get to decide what are the key priorities, and then what we try to do together is remove obstacles in their way so that they can completely flourish. So I encourage the reports to be wonderfully, completely cognizant, to be fully aware of everything that’s going on in their area and to articulate that, not only to me but also their colleagues on the leadership team so that they can benefit from all those minds working together on getting things done for the school as a whole.
So, unsurprisingly, being an academic, I think knowledge is very important. I like them to be able to synthesize knowledge, to be able to convey it. Together we can draw certain conclusions that might be helpful for their particular area of responsibility and for the organization as a whole.
BS: The Fund Raising School now has a course Effective Leadership, Successful Fundraising and one of the key attributes that we teach in that course is while fundraisers might not have that decision-making authority, they do have expert authority. And that’s the kind of authority that Dean Pasic was talking about there, that you know what’s happening with fundraising. You know what’s happening with donors even better than the person that you report to, and that person is counting on you to be that conduit.
Just as you’re leading the donor to an opportunity with your nonprofit, you’re also leading up to your CEO with information that you have about the fundraising landscape so that the organization can maximize all of its opportunities. We talk about leading up to the CEO. What about the board of directors? How important is it for the board to include the top development officer, either in the board meetings in a formal way or at least to have that open line of communication? And what’s the best advice for a fundraiser as they work with an organization’s board?
AP: Well, I think that the triangle between the CEO, the head of development, and the board is one that either assures that good magic will happen or that things will go badly wrong with an organization. And there’s, I think, a lot of structural work that many organizations need to do. But I think it’s a partnership. It’s really a three way partnership. The board hires and fires the CEO. They need to mesh and understand what’s happening there. And then it’s really up to the CEO and the chair of the board to welcome the development head to be part of their partnership in many ways. They want somebody who wakes up and goes to sleep worried about what’s happening with donor relationships and to bring that to the table when they’re discussing the board’s role in development, which we know is vital for the success of most nonprofit organization.
BS: We also know that leaders need to not just be focused on their organization, but be looking outside the organization into the future. What should fundraisers be paying attention to? You fundraise for our college -what are things happening in the external environment that, as leaders, fundraisers need to be aware?
AP: I think primarily you need to know who your donors are and what they’re doing. Because likely in the next 3 to 5 years and beyond, the current donors you have are going to be your important donors going forward, but you also need to pay attention to broader trends in terms of what are people talking about philanthropy? What are some of the innovations in terms of impact investing, social enterprises, donor advised funds, LLCs that some of the major new arrivals of the highly wealthy individuals are developing? Those things are not only important in terms of the way the competitive environment is going to change for your organization, but it’s also part of the conversation that affects how your own donors are going to be looking at their own philanthropy.
So I think staying abreast of trends and your donors, both of those things are very important.
BS: So the fundraiser needs that for her own success as she’s fundraising and leading the team. That’s also information that the fundraiser can report up to the CEO and also be a conduit to the board of directors.
Let me summarize it this way. Fundraisers need to be others-focused. A leader needs to be others-focused. The fundraiser certainly has his or her own goals that they need to meet in fundraising. But at the end of the day, it’s the benefit of the nonprofit when those dollars come in.
You’ve spoken so eloquently about how those same fundraising skills translate to leadership by focusing on the well-being of the organization. Help our fundraising audience understand that perspective.
AP: Well, I think it starts with the principle that it’s really not about you. You have chosen a mission-driven career and you’re focused on the mission. Bringing people together around that mission is so important, and you can show your own commitment to it by leading by example, informing people, and showing them the opportunities for their service. When you think about the great leaders in history like Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they have motivated a lot of volunteer enthusiasm to follow them. They have inspired people because they have shown a clear path and been a facilitator, somebody who’s helped make things happen. So as a leader, if you’re not making that happen, if you’re not getting people to move out of their particular group to respond to existing challenges, then what is it that you’re actually adding in terms of value to the organization?
BS: What value are you adding as a leader. In philanthropy, it could be encouraging the volunteer time of others, their charitable contributions, adding their voices to the table. And as fundraisers, we need to be focusing on how we’re having that impact. We can fundraise with confidence and we can lead with confidence.