As a culture, Americans cultivate a mystique about leadership. The Leader is a recognizable type. The square jawed guy in the corner office works tirelessly, makes correct split-second decisions, and inspires the enthusiasm of his followers. I know that when I compare myself to him, I am slow-tongued, prone to second-guessing, and sometimes rumple-suited. But maybe we can get more mileage out of honoring our limitations than trying to live up the Leadership Mystique.
The fund raising profession is crippled by that Leadership mystique. Lots of people believe that succeeding in fund raising requires nerves of steel, flat abs, and straight, white teeth. The truth is, good manners and a little ambition will get you far.
If you find that The Prototypical Leader’s Textbook for Fund Raising don’t help you so much, here are some alternative ideas.
- The Leader is self-reliant. As my mentor Andrea Kihlstedt is fond of saying, “every organization is perfectly configured to be itself.” That means change is hard. If you want to be an instrument of organizational transformation, find allies.
- The Leader is never insecure. Pay attention to your insecurity. Once you recognize that your nerves are made of some material more like pliable than steel, you can tune them to signal when something is off kilter in your relationships with your donors.
- The Leader is unerringly persuasive. Your donor has assigned your organization to a certain groove in her brain, and that determines her decision to give $X instead of ten times $X. Your job, as a fund raiser, is to try to move the organization into a different brain-groove. This is nervous-making. You can face this nervousness by asking permission to discuss her priorities with her, by acknowledging that you are going out on a limb, or by any one of dozens of other ways of humanizing the encounter. Once you admit you are not The Leader, all kinds of possibilities open themselves.
Anyone else out there find the Leadership Mystique unhelpful? How do you deal with it?