How To Be An Effective Annual Giving Leader
Coach. Cheerleader. Teacher. Champion. Obstacle-clearer.
Of all the characteristics that are beneficial for an annual giving leader—whose team’s importance can sometimes be overlooked amid the ongoing quest for mega-gifts—one stands out above all others. A survey of over 200 annual giving program directors asked participants to identify the first word that came to mind when hearing the phrase “annual giving leader.” Popular responses were clustered to create a word cloud; the more frequently a word was mentioned, the larger the font used. As you can see from the image below, the most common response was strategic.
As chief strategists, leadership-level annual giving professionals are responsible for piloting the planning process, establishing goals (and aligning them with the larger institutional goals), and ensuring their program’s productivity. They need to monitor industry trends and best practices and determine how to adapt and incorporate good ideas. They also need to analyze the results and trends of their own programs and then translate key findings into new and improved approaches. At the same time, they have to be able to “manage up”—to help senior advancement leaders understand the capabilities and limits of the annual giving program.
Leadership-level annual giving professionals are also the ones responsible for making decisions about where to allocate resources. They need to be able to identify problems and impediments as well as devise effective solutions to deal with them. Since it’s not always easy or possible to get more resources or change people’s expectations, leaders face the challenge of getting the most out of the resources they already have. Focusing on strategy means they need to delegate tasks and responsibilities to others, find ways to empower and retain the most talented staff, and address issues of underperformance.
Needless to say, strategic leadership takes work.
Above all, being a strategic annual giving leader requires focusing a significant amount of time and attention on the things that will have the biggest impact on fundraising as well as participation. This means working closely with advancement colleagues—especially those in major gifts and alumni relations—as well as with others across campus, including deans, faculty and other senior administrators. It also means being proactive in thinking about the role, the potential, and the expectations of the annual fund in the context of broader advancement initiatives—something that’s increasingly important as educational institutions find themselves going into, coming out of, or in the middle of comprehensive fundraising campaigns.
Originally used in a military context, the broader concept of strategy describes a plan to achieve a goal over a given period of time and under conditions of uncertainty. For many leadership-level annual giving professionals, this context still rings true today, and its use proves to be as important as ever.
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