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Why all fundraisers need to be leaders

Howard Lake | 1 July 2014 | Blogs

Woe is me. Does this phrase sound familiar? Perhaps you may have not uttered those exact words but I am certain, whether you are in your first fundraising job or signing your emails ‘Chief Executive’, you will have decried the shortcomings of your organisation at some stage. Trustees aren’t committed enough; there is a silo culture between departments; somebody around you frankly just isn’t good enough at their job…
Read any self-help management book and it will tell you that YOU can do it. But if you are at the bottom of that metaphorical career ladder, your response to that somewhat American-style advice will be “yes, if you’re at the top”, while ironically, if you’re at the top of the ladder, you’ll probably be thinking “yes, if I had more support”.


So who does actually have responsibility for solving these woes? The word of the moment is leadership, a term the voluntary sector has talked about an awful lot. For example, ACEVO has published reports showing that 81 per cent of charity senior managers are from other sectors as apparently we have great difficulty attracting and retaining individuals with high leadership potential. They are not alone in their views with many others, including Dame Mary Marsh who headed up the government’s social sector skills review, saying that we are not doing enough to develop our leaders.
There is a lot of talk. But how much of it has actually been subject to scientific research? The answer is not a lot. Even standard industry surveys fail to engage representative samples; a 2012 CIPD report, for example, only engaged 79 respondents from the voluntary sector.

Differences in leadership between sectors

Research into leadership has been going on for over a century; it is a huge topic spanning manning libraries. Despite this though, little has been done to analyse the differences between leadership in different sectors, and as we all know we as a sector ARE different.
In 2011, Professor Ashley Pinnington of the faculty of business at the British University of Dubai published research that definitively showed there were differences in leadership between the sectors. Unsurprisingly, what strikes a chord in the third sector is values, collaboration and authenticity; because ‘success’ for us is not about making a profit. Even for we fundraisers, who are all about making money, this is about improving our society rather than contributing to a shareholder’s luxury lifestyle. In essence, we are in the business of making other people’s lives better and success for us comes in the form of survival rates from cancer, access to education, safety from abuse, and so on.
It’s pretty rousing stuff, isn’t it? Sort of like Mel Gibson prancing around in tartan and sticking it to the English? Except it isn’t. Apparently our leaders are failing us, and it’s their weak leadership skills which mean our organisations are impacted by the recession, our teams suffer from low morale and we are failing to achieve our charitable goals.


How to move from Fundraiser to CEO - by Bruce Tait. Upwards white arrow on blue background.

If you want to be a better leader…

If you believe your leadership is failing you, my question to you is: what have you ever done about it? If you believe enough in a cause to convince unwitting members of the public to donate their hard earned cash, but will idly let the leadership of your charity fail then you are a hypocrite. London Business School says the formula of leadership is:

“to be the right person, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing”.

Now this isn’t some rule that governs the serendipitous rise of an individual like William Wallace against an evil suppressor. This is a formula that says good leadership is about everyone doing something right. Leadership isn’t about one person. It’s about the team, the organisation, the cause, our society…
So what now? If you want to be a better leader, a better fundraiser, even a better citizen, I hope you’ll respond to that question by doing something – be it offering your support to a colleague, participating in leadership training or by altering your behaviour in the workplace. Because as all good fundraisers know, without action nothing changes.
David Milton is head of fundraising at World Cancer Research Fund and a guest leader on the Resource Alliance’s Future Leaders Programme.
Read the first in this series on charity leadership by Neelam Makijhani, former chief executive of the Resource Alliance.