Authentic Leadership: The Key to Successful Fundraising Programs

The charitable sector is facing a leadership crisis. This is particularly true for professional fundraisers, who are often promoted into positions without the leadership and managements skills and training they need to be successful. There’s often no clear path to take to prepare you for these positions.

At the same time, board members and senior leaders take on roles in nonprofits without any background in fundraising and philanthropy. They are being set up for failure. And, they’re certainly being set up to have trouble understanding the importance of fundraising to an organization, to say nothing of their involvement in it.

What’s the impact? Leah G. Eustace, ACFRE, president of Blue Canoe Philanthropy in Ottawa, and R. Scott Fortnum, ACFRE, MA, executive director at The Living City Foundation in Toronto, discussed these issues during their session “Authentic Leadership: The Key to Successful Fundraising Programs” at the AFP International Fundraising Conference. The answer is not a pretty one: Nonprofits going under, tension between staff and volunteers, a focus on short-term gain instead of long-term viability, fundraisers’ trying to keep up with unrealistic goals and expectations, burnout, distrust … the list goes on.

Eustace and Fortnum focused on the concept of authentic leadership, which the most successful and sustainable nonprofits are embracing. The concept of authentic leadership has been around for millennia, but really began being discussed in a business sense in 2003 when Bill George published Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value. He persuasively demonstrates that authentic leaders of mission-driven organizations will always be more successful than those in financially driven organizations.

Authentic leaders build mission-driven organizations by inspiring staff and volunteers, building a culture of philanthropy, focusing on the cause rather than the institution and through storytelling.

Eustace and Fortnum also focused on authentic leadership from the point of view of self — having a sense of purpose, staying true to your core values, acting with integrity, the importance of strong relationships and the importance of leading with your heart.