You’re Not Alone: What To Do When Leadership Loses Its Way (Part 2)

Claire Axelrad

By Claire Axelrad

Why Leadership Loses it’s Way

  • Founder leaves with no succession plan in place.
  • Founder stays too long, and their founding vision no longer resonates with an evolving constituency and/or landscape.
  • Significant staff and/or board turnover at the executive level.
  • No board turnover, terms of office or adherence to BYLAWS dictating board roles and responsibilities.
  • Organizational infrastructure is dysfunctional (e.g., there are too few committees; all the real work gets done in executive committee; power is lopsided in favor of the E.D. or the board; there is no governance committee holding members accountable; staff support for board is insufficient; board refuse to accept their responsibility for financing).
  • Organization’s leaders are good at managing only one way (e.g. during a period of growth, contraction or status quo) but are not so good at managing through another modality.
  • Organization lacks skills and/or access to resources essential to survival in a changing environment
  • … and more.

Most organizations share similar traits.  That being said,  every organization is different and I definitely don’t believe in cookie cutter solutions.  In an upcoming post I’ll discuss how to embrace your organization’s particular challenges and face them head on.

Today I’d like to share with you a few  ‘quick and dirty’ recommendationsthat most commonly flow from the development audits I conduct for organizations who find themselves in this situation.  While you may not need to make changes in all of these areas, my hunch is that if your fundraising has plateaued or has been heading steadily downward, you’ll want to be considering changes in these key areas.

A 6-Step Road Map to Successfully Turn Things Around

  1. Integrate fundraising and marketing under the leadership of a seasoned development professional.

Nonprofit marketing and fundraising have changed more in the past five years than the preceding 50. The digital revolution ended business as usual. Per the 2014 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report, the biggest challenges nonprofits face today are:

  • donor acquisition;
  • community engagement;
  • brand awareness, and
  • donor retention.

You must attack your greatest challenges head on as you move forward.You won’t succeed if you try to do this catch-as-catch can, leaving folks to figure out what to do on their own. More than ever, successful development requires strategic leadership. You’re in a battle to win over donor hearts – not just once, but over and over to sustain and build loyalty you can count on. You won’t win the war unless you pull together your team, and your resources, and get everyone together on the same page. And that page must be in line with the way today’s donors and advocates research, engage, and ultimately support organizations.

Fundraising and marketing must be seamlessly integratedThey cannot be separate silos any longer. Staff with responsibilities in these areas must speak the same language.  Responsibilities must be clearly assigned, both to prevent fights over territory and to assure nothing slips through the cracks. Department meetings should be held regularly so everyone understands the role they play in contributing towards the big picture goal.

  1. Clarify the role of the board, both as a whole (governance) and as individual members (financing).
  • Work through a Governance Committee to make a plan to add more qualified board members– develop job descriptions, identify needed skills and recruit new members who understand their leadership role in both governance and financing, and assign staff to actively support members and develop customized development work plans with manageable ambassador, advocacy and asking assignments for each individual.
  • Make a formal plan for recruiting and training leadership volunteers — board, associate advisory group and other volunteers to expand volunteer participation and engagement.
  • Expand the Fundraising Committee (consider adding a few former board,  major donors, other committee or direct service volunteers or other influencers) and clarify their role overseeing, evaluating and approving fundraising initiatives. Delegate subcommittees, as needed, to steer major initiatives , events or campaigns.
  1. Build and develop a board and committee structure to evolve to a stronger, more engaged and more diversified fundraising board.
  • Clarify the role of standing committees, ad hoc committees and subcommittees in moving fundraising/marketing forward .
  •  Schedule regular meetings with your full board to reinforce  the strategic ways in which different committees interact and to inspire energy around vision/mission/values).
  • Consider a retreat to discuss  committee (as a whole) assignments and ambassador, advocate and asker tasks (for individual members).
  1. Clarify your mission/vision goals; case for support, and stories.
  • Engage in team-building exercises to energize board and staff and reconnect them with their passions for this work (include time to socialize; learn about each other).
  • Engage in skill-finding exercises and skill-building workshops to re-enforce strength areas and build confidence and collaboration (e.g. “Gallup Strengths Finder for staff; Branding, Personas, Storytelling and/or Content Marketing for all; Fundraising training for board).
  1. Develop and implement a clearly articulated written strategic development plan.
  • Build and polish prospect lists to acquire new donors.
  • Develop and implement a customer-centered stewardship system to renew and upgrade donors.
  • Reframe, consolidate or eliminate strategies that are no longer working effectively.
  1. Build an inbound content marketing program to support development.

You can’t do anything if you don’t have the supporters you need to see your mission through to fruition.  You’ve got to spend money to make money.  These days that means investing in staff and technology that allows you to build relationships online. The digital revolution has ended business as usual. Today, you’ve got to invest time in thinking how to make dynamic frameworks that serve fundraising. Pair your passion to further your mission with the incredibly exciting fact that digital tools and channels will ensure that the way you can engage with people will be constantly evolving. So no one can afford to sit back and wait to follow. The world moves too fast today. There’s simply no substitute for leadership. This is beautifully summarized in Tony Elischer’s Rebuilding the Donor Pyramid:

In the digital world of fundraising it is the leaders who reap the rewards, rarely the followers.

Claire Axelrad , J.D., CFRE was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of Clairification. A sought-after coach and consultant, Claire is a frequent contributor to leading nonprofit resources including 4GOOD, Nonprofit Hub, Nonprofit.about.com, npENGAGE Experts, 3rd Sector, the Foundation Center and Guidestar. Claire writes a bi-monthly column, “Charity Clairity” for Nonprofit Pro and a monthly nonprofit social media feature for Maximize Social Business and is a “Top 100 Content Marketing Influencer” on Twitter. Clairification was named “Best Fundraising Blog of 2013” by FundRaising Success Magazine. A member of the California State Bar and a graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco California. Connect with Claire on Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s