I’m pleased to welcome Christina Attard today as a guest blogger! She’s going to tell you about nonprofit leadership, and which books have helped her succeed. You may have seen Ms. Attard’s previous post, “Secrets about planned giving that only your donors know.”
Where do you want to go in your nonprofit career?
Organizational advancement is structured less like a professional ladder and more like a grouping of ponds. Before considering move within the sector it is important to consider which particular areas or “ponds” play to your strengths – do you love stewardship? Events? Gift planning? Research? Managing others?
The book that helped me the most in determining which pond I wanted to be in was Strengthsfinder 2.0. It focuses on the idea that each person has a very individual set of strengths. Knowing what those strengths are allows you to align your life so that you are able to do what you do best, every day. Before focusing on a senior management role, evaluate your strengths and see if this is a chance to broaden or deepen in the area of focus you’re already working in or if it is time to move to a new pond.
Entrepreneurial strengths geared toward problem-solving and a willingness to lead others may mean that a director’s role and the opportunity to work with an organization that is looking to bring fundraising to the next level could be the right move for you.
“Social Profit” means you answer to shareholders
Paul Alofs, President and CEO of the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation in Toronto and author of the book Passion Capital, has written a number of times about the need to change the language in our sector from “not-for-profit” to “social-profit.” I agree with him. Society deserves no less from you than any other shareholder. Being prepared to think like a businessperson – ready to look ahead, to prune back or plant new and to take calculated risks – is a critical part of being ready to direct a development team.
Seth Godin’s book Linchpin pushed me to re-think how we look at our own art as fundraising professionals. Production skills can be replaced. Even knowledge can be easily acquired in our internet-age, devaluing specialized knowledge areas in the marketplace. The irreplaceable “linchpin” that holds it all together in the business world? Creativity.
The blend of fundraising knowledge and experience, maybe even a CFRE, is what will help you land the director’s job, but in order to do it well, it’s important to think like a creative-agency. How do you help the client understand the steps needed to transition into an organization that receives solid support from the community?
- Having an acute eye,
- A listening ear and
- Developing a creative way forward
will help you bring something of true value that will generate a social-profit and a financial one.
The challenge here is in being a champion for creative, and sometimes difficult, solutions. Meeting activity goals still matters, but choosing the right activities, setting the right goals and helping others achieve them is where the director looks to make the business more profitable.
The first 100 days (and how not to kill anyone)
Sometimes the traditional job-interview process doesn’t make room for the candidate to conduct in-depth interviews of the organization. One interesting approach is to request a delayed start-date after hiring. This leaves time to interview more of the important players in the organization as well as board members, direct reports and key volunteers. Without immediate daily responsibilities, there is time to listen for what the top issues in the organization are. Alan Kay’s book Fry the Monkeys helped me to develop a set of solutions-focussed questions that I use frequently to help me hear how I can lead effectively.
Another book titled The First 100 Days coupled with watching many fundraising leaders helped me to identify the importance of setting one significant but do-able goal to be completed within the first 100 days of one’s tenure as a leader. After arriving last year as the new Development Director in my current role, and having conducted a series of internal interviews, I decided the most important goal we could set would be to send a personalized, hand-signed thank you letter to all 5,000 supporters within my first 100 days. For a small team, adding a new and more complex mailing for the first time was a huge task. I knew that it was the right move from team and leadership feedback and from other positive feedback from donors through the year.
Now, I bet you’re wondering about the “how not to kill anyone” part… This is where Patrick Lencioni’s business fable, Death by Meeting can help with setting reasonable expectations and internal communications. Lencioni’s key tip is to give meetings a beginning a middle and an end – like a story you might see on television. Much of my first year was spent presenting to volunteer groups and I followed Lencioni’s rubric; share something about my background, outline strategic direction for the organization’s fundraising, discuss ways we can work together.
The second take-away from Lencioni was his rubric for staff meetings: (Ed: this is also known as Scrum, which comes from Agile software development)
- 5 minutes standing upeach morning to check in,
- 20 minutes once a week to update on progress and an hour once a month followed by
- Lunch to talk about big-picture progress and challenges.
Introducing a pattern for productive, but short meetings helps to carve time and mental space for team members to adjust to a new person in the leadership role.
Walking in the footsteps of mentors
A member of my personal board of directors has taught me over the years that you must prepare yourself to be ready and then an opportunity will find you.
Part of that for me has been working to expand beyond a solid knowledge of the gift planning practice by forming something of an addiction to business books. My time-saving secret? I keep an eye on a couple of book review blogs and read their favorites. I can recommend businessbookreader.blogspot.ca.
Christina Attard writes at the Ask Better, Give Smarter blog. Ms. Attard is passionate about helping nonprofits understand planned giving. She is the Development Director of the Archdiocese of Regina, Canada. Follow her on Twitter @GPTekkie.