When Betsy Myers’ daughter put on her new ballet outfit, she looked in the mirror and beamed. “I’m freaking out with joy,” she said.
“Aren’t we supposed to be freaking out with joy?” Myers rhetorically asked approximately 4,000 fundraisers during the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International Conference on Fundraising (ICON).
Myers closed out Monday afternoon at ICON with a talk on effective leadership. She is the author of Take The Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out The Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You. Currently at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., where she serves as Founding Director of the Center for Women and Business, Myers was President Bill Clinton’s senior adviser on women and acted as chief operating officer for President Obama’s 2008 campaign.
“Leadership is about getting results,” she said. “We need to rethink how we get the work done. The world has changed; what worked in the past doesn’t work today.”
The biggest problem in business, whether it is in the for-profit sector or the nonprofit world, is the lack of engagement in the workplace. Between 50 and 70 percent of American workers do not feel engaged, and Myers attributes this to a fault in leadership. A 2009 Gallup poll estimated this lack of engagement costs American companies $350 billion per year due to employees not working to their potential. Myers noted Americans spend millions of dollars on leadership development, but questions if we’re teaching the right strategies to people.
Effective leaders — those that do not subscribe to a command-and-control style but rather capture the hearts of their employees — have three qualities. The first, she said, is they bring out productive feelings in themselves and their people. “Emotions motivate us and determine how much we engage,” she said. “When people feel valued and appreciated, they do their best work.”
Fundraisers already know this; many donors make gifts based on emotions, and effectively-stewarded donors, donors who feel valued, stay with the organization year after year and make gift after gift.
Good leaders are self-aware, Myers said. They constantly ask themselves what they do right and where they can do better. Myers admitted she is a very casual person. When dealing with her most important donor to the Center for Women and Business, a woman who gave $2 million, Myers was far too casual in their dealings, causing the donor to feel disrespected. Myers now wears a suit to each meeting and prepares and shares with the donor a detailed agenda. “I do what I need to do to keep her feeling respected,” she said. “That’s part of being strategic in the work we do. We can adjust.”
Finally, good leaders don’t have all the answers, but they’re willing to ask questions. Senior development officers must ask their staff, their fellow executives and their organizations’ boards what success looks like, then craft a fundraising strategy where everything leads to that success. “The strength of our leadership comes from the willingness and curiosity to ask the questions and seek input from those around us,” said Myers.
Fundraising should be a joyful activity, said Myers. The attitudes of good leaders trickle down to their staff, and gift officers in turn get results from donors. The donors feel vindicated in supporting organizations and causes they care about. With the right leaders everyone at an organization, from donors to staff to boards to constituents, will be freaking out with joy.