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The Courage to Lead

Whether you’re a director of advancement, major gifts, or an executive director, you’re a leader. I wonder, though, how many directors of development or major gift directors view themselves that way.

A lot of times what I see is nonprofit development people waiting for someone (anyone) to lead. It’s sort of like a Saturday morning at the Rescigno house. I usually look around and think everything is fine until I see the expression on Sue’s face: it says, “Hey Bucko, if we want to have a nice weekend, let’s do some straightening up, then we’ll both be able to relax.” Now I may not always like it, but that’s leadership! So I usually end up saying, “Just tell me what you’d like me to do, and I’ll do it.” Believe me, it’s easier that way.

In development offices, when CEOs, board members or volunteers are asked to help in fundraising, that’s what they usually say too. And if they’re not saying it you can bet they’re thinking it.

Several months ago I sat in on a board meeting of a very well off (and high profile) nonprofit. The quality of professionals, their wealth, and credentials was impressive beyond measure. It came time for the development team to make their report on results of the past few months. At the end of their report, when the board had the opportunity to ask questions, there were none.

At the very end of the meeting, thankfully, one of the board members asked the director of development if the board could help with introductions to some of the very high level executives they knew. The development director, of course, said that would be most appreciated. Here’s the problem: what if that one board member had said nothing? What a waste the whole meeting would have been.

To put this scenario in another way, the development director could have (and probably should have) come to the meeting with a prepared list of individuals, foundations, and corporations and asked the board, “Is there anyone on this list you can help us with? We need your help!” Ironically, the development direction waits for board direction instead of leading.

I find that many times development directors who bemoan the lack of participation and board ownership in the mission have it all wrong.

Message to development directors: stop waiting for your board to direct you in fundraising. You must direct them by telling them what they should be doing to help. They want and need the help!

And if you’re waiting for your CEO or major gifts officer to stop by and ask if he can help with donors, stop kidding yourself. The CEO has the whole organization to run. You need to come to meetings prepared to provide a list of donors for them to call. Stop waiting for them to approach you.

Believe me when I tell you that Sue and I have sat with many nonprofit executives, board members and volunteers. They’re DESPERATE for someone to tell them what to do when it comes to fundraising.

And, by the way, it works in much the same way when it comes to donors. While they may not want you to tell them what they should do, they DO want you to lead them. They want major gift officers to bring them projects and programs that they’ll be interested in. They want you to recommend how their gifts should be used. They want you to offer options.

So stop being hesitant or even fearful. If you’ve got it in your head that your CEO or the people on the board are too powerful to be told what they need to do, you’re wrong.

Maybe you and your way of thinking is the problem. Have you considered that?

Leadership and donors are waiting for you to take the reins. You’ll be serving your CEO, board members and donors well to lead them. In the end, it will translate to more support and deeper relationships with everyone.

You have our permission — now go to that next board meeting and lead it like you mean it!

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