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Fundraising in a Changing Economy:
Simply put, effective leadership is integral to the success of any nonprofit direct marketing program. The ideal leader has clear vision, which he or she can translate to the development team, motivating them to have a positive impact on fundraising in the short term and – more important – promoting sustainable growth for the organization.
In recent years, the nonprofit sector has shown unprecedented growth, which has brought increased competition for philanthropic support. Consequently, nonprofits have had to become more savvy and innovative in their direct marketing efforts. They must be extremely thoughtful about selecting direct mail leadership that is confident, capable and adaptable to changing economic factors – while keeping the ultimate goals of the organization in sight.
Because they may feel that for-profit experience is a prime indicator for success, nonprofits sometimes look to the business sector for key direct marketing leaders. The truth is that the nonprofit arena is no less competitive today than other sectors: intelligence and ability to innovate are essential.
While for-profit, business expertise is valuable in the nonprofit sector, measuring potential candidates by their talents, in combination with their education and work experience, will undoubtedly reveal the strongest leaders. Though key attributes for success in any sector might be similar, additional checks and balances in the nonprofit world demand leaders who are directly accountable not just to the organization, but also to their donors. This requires someone with exceptional vision and integrity.
In addition, nonprofit staff size and budgets are limited. Therefore, leadership often needs to learn and assume many different roles and responsibilities and then train staff to assume those functions. Successful leadership in nonprofit direct marketing and fundraising requires flexible, multi-talented individuals. When assessing potential leaders, nonprofits should be clear about their priorities and consider the candidateís ability to embrace the organizationís vision and advance its goals. Ideally, the successful nonprofit direct marketing leader will possess key characteristics in each of the following areas:
Analysis and Vision
Nonprofit Direct Marketing (DM) leaders should be intelligent and analytical, readily seeking new information along with innovative ideas and solutions. They should be adept and thoughtful in their analysis, able to draw meaningful conclusions and guide implementation toward goals. They should also be able to review data, understand what the numbers reveal, then translate those numbers for different audiences and use them in refining strategy and implementation plans.
Successful DM leaders have a sense of purpose and vision and the ability to impart that vision to others; this is vital for meeting both short- and long-term objectives. Strong leaders can motivate staff by their own example and by involving and engaging them in the process and the cause.
Creativity and Innovation
Good leaders are constantly seeking new ideas and new ways of doing things; they in turn seek and inspire these same characteristics in the team they assemble. They must not be averse to taking risks and testing new ideas, knowing they will not always be successful. A strong leader can learn as much from failures as triumphs and can recognize the benefits of continued testing and identifying new opportunities.
Successful DM leaders are superb communicators with exceptional relational skills. They can easily relate to peers, staff, senior leadership and Board members as well as donors and potential donors. They are also empathic, able to view situations from the perspective of others. A great DM leader understands the importance of building relationships –internal and external, and between the organization and its donors. Involving the entire organization – including senior leadership, program staff, and marketing and communications – in fundraising fosters a sense of collaboration and teamwork that provides the foundation for a successful fundraising program. A strong ability to listen and elicit constructive feedback is key to successful communication.
Integrity and Responsibility
Ideal DM leaders have a strong sense of pride in their organization, and they inspire pride within their team. They understand their role in representing their organization; they are accountable and acutely aware of their responsibility to steward donations wisely and make efficient use of limited budgets. They have a strong work ethic and the desire and ability to meet new challenges and the dedication to continue until the job is done well.
While typical DM leaders must wear many hats, they must also be able to delegate responsibility to and manage the team they assemble. Training the team properly and then allowing its members to develop ownership is another way of fostering a sense of collaboration. The team is the sum of its parts, especially in the nonprofit world, and no single person can do it all. A strong DM leader is an excellent manager of limited resources and budgets who can recognize opportunities to develop the team and assign responsibilities accordingly. That allows the leader to spend more time focusing on the larger issues and meeting organizational goals.
Schultz & Williams is a national consulting firm based in Philadelphia providing management, fundraising and marketing consulting for nonprofit organizations, along with full-service direct marketing, database and creative/production services.