In forty years of providing counsel to nonprofit institutions throughout the country as CEO of Ruotolo Associates, I’ve studied the qualities of leadership and am convinced we all have the potential to lead. While for some it’s readily apparent, others have to seek to discover their voice. Understanding the characteristics of leadership and their correlation to fundraising is the first step in a journey well worth taking.
The value of integrated fundraising lies in how individual channels of cultivation work together to engage prospects. Knowing your institution and your donors is the key to making this strategy effective. Trustees, staff and volunteers at every level can develop this keen understanding by honing the characteristics of leadership to affect change in others.
So, what are the elements of effective leadership?
How we convey our thoughts and ideas goes well beyond the words we say. Understanding the nuance of tone and executing it deftly is a valuable skillset for any leader.
Too often words and even actions fail to make their impact. An effective leader understands the audience – its attitude and proclivities – and has the dexterity to maneuver the messaging to maximize its effectiveness.
To understand an audience requires empathy. Recognizing and valuing the experience of another, though it may differ from our own, fosters connection and builds a sense of engagement and community.
In all three significant modes of raising funds – direct response, personal outreach, and events – language matters. The combined elements of communication ensure that messaging through any range of channels speaks to the donor and reflects the values of the institution. The voice of our leaders and our cause are one.
Leaders are likeable. As opposed to popularity, which is fleeting, people gravitate toward those for whom they have a genuine fondness. Attributes such as being kind, honest, ethical, thoughtful, believable and compassionate all contribute to our admiration of a leader.
Effective leaders are authentic and operate with a transparency of action. People can see and accept behavior based on clear intent. To follow a leader is to put faith in their guidance, their instinct, and their honor. Ultimately, true leaders are known and trusted.
A person walks into the room with an infectious smile, a sincere affect, and an engaging manner. This person has the attention of the room, for a moment. Can they translate that interpersonal charisma into engaging leadership? Or do they witness the slow, almost imperceptible downward spiral where credibility may be squandered?
The ability to hold a room, to engage an audience, requires an assurance and self-possession that can be conveyed with grace and humility as easily as bravado. To be present one-on-one requires a genuine interest in the other, an invitation to connect. Complementing our innate skills with specialized training allows us to develop a style that is both natural and effective.
Seeking to engage those who share the values and mission of our institution is the quest of effective integrated fundraising. Our demonstrated and present commitment affirms the message and the ask for many donors
The strategies of integrated fundraising inherently call for a greater breadth of leadership. Moving beyond the most direct, singular approach, we validate the diversity and complexity of our donor base and the need to sync our efforts to reach our constituents and move them to action. Empowering everyone at the table – Trustee, staff, volunteer – to own their capacity to lead amplifies the resources and magnifies the impact we can have in advancing our cause.
Does your organization have the tools to empower your leaders?
Leadership training through counsel can hone these essential skills within your team. For those who wish to go beyond effective, executive coaching provides a path for next-level, transformative growth.