Selecting or Electing a Leader
It is often assumed a good leader must possess the ability to tell other people what they need to do. In reality, however, the mark of a good leader is learning and listening. To lead effectively does not mean guiding a group of followers, but taking in data from various sources and utilizing it effectively to persuade others to work for a cause. After all, unless you are leading a military command post, people can simply quit — especially volunteers. A good leader knows how to communicate what it is that he hopes to accomplish effectively.
Once the membership has been sold on the idea of raising funds, an effective leader makes the people she is leading feel good about themselves, enjoying the work they are doing. The success or failure of a fundraising project can be influenced by the enthusiasm of the workers involved, because they are at the heart of the project.
Nonprofits, once led by social workers who were passionate about their cause, are increasingly run by professional MBA types who can get more bang for the buck in areas such as administrative costs, with an emphasis on delivering services in the most cost-efficient manner. Still, their mission and doing good works must remain paramount in order to achieve fundraising success and best serve the causes.
Meanwhile, as the baby boomers retire, the search for nonprofit talent will become more competitive, as candidates may gravitate toward better-paying professions. In short, the time to grow and develop future leaders is now.
Nonprofit leaders today must be able to work graciously with boards of directors, government bureaucracies, foundations, donors, volunteers, clients, and their service community. Those looking to develop leaders should look for individuals who:
Understand an organization's mission
Plan for the long term while simultaneously resolving any immediate crises
Possess excellent communication skills to work within the organization as well as the media
Inspire staff and volunteers who receive little or no pay
Serve as a role model by pushing up their shirtsleeves and securing donations
Perhaps the most significant set of skills you will need as a leader are people skills. After all, you can be an expert at setting the budget, following your calendar, and lining up the resources necessary to pull off your fundraiser. However, if no one follows your lead, you are not a leader.
Whether you are dealing with volunteers or donors, you will need to be encouraging and show a degree of patience and flexibility, even more so than in the office or at your workplace, where levels of seniority and internal politics may dictate protocol. You will also have to be accessible so you can address concerns, answer questions, and solve conflicts that may arise.
To do this effectively, it helps to have all of your homework done in advance. Know as much as possible about the cause, your fundraising goal, and how to produce and promote your choice of fundraising activity. Have all of the FAQs answered ahead of time — in your mind or on paper.
Important people skills include:
Listening when others talk
Conducting research so you are well versed on your fundraising cause
Delegating work to others clearly
Giving people latitude to utilize their skills — don't micromanage
Seeking out the opinions of others
Monitoring people's work closely, but from afar
Keeping others apprised of the progress of the fundraiser
Remaining calm under pressure and getting along with various personalities
Knowing when you need to ask for help
Providing encouragement and showing appreciation
People skills are always a work in progress. You never know whom you are going to meet and what that person will be like. Whether you are working within an established nonprofit organization or orchestrating a grassroots fundraiser for a school or library, you will meet many different personality types, and your people skills will be tested repeatedly.
Other Important Skills
While the bylaws of your nonprofit organization may indicate how leaders are officially selected, the most important attributes for heading a fundraising project are people skills. Whoever assumes the role of leader should also possess various other skills, including:
Organizational skills, such as planning and tracking tasks and activities
Communication skills, both verbal and written
The ability to persuade and motivate
Flexibility, in case you need to shift gears or try new ideas
Decision-making skills, including the tendency to listen to various points of view before making a decision
Listening to the needs of others and considering suggestions or opinions
Even if there is no required time frame for your fundraising effort, you should impose one. By setting a time frame, you establish parameters and inspire people to work harder. An open-ended fundraising campaign can drag on, and the people involved may lose their motivation. Deadlines, even soft ones, spur action.
Not unlike the old circus act where the clown tried to keep all the plates spinning at once, as the leader you will be asked to handle a wide range of responsibilities, even on what may initially seem like the simplest of fundraising efforts.
The size of your organization and the number of people involved in the fundraiser will largely dictate whether you will be a hands-on leader or an overseer. As a hands-on leader, you will be doing plenty of in-the-trenches work, such as putting up tents, driving the van, or manning the loudspeaker at the carnival. As an overseer, you will be in the position of having committee chairpersons do the necessary work. Your job is to see that each committee is getting the task accomplished within the constraints of your budget and time frame.