And They’re Off!

It’s Derby Week! Every year for two weeks everything in Louisville is timed around events leading up to the Kentucky Derby. There are hot air balloon races, a human race, a balloon glow, a bed race, a parade and many, many other events.

At Thunder…Leadership Flies High

It all starts with Thunder Over Louisville, which begins at 3:00 pm with an air show and ends with a gigantic fireworks display. It is the largest combined air show and fireworks display in America.

This year my son-in-law, Lt. Colonel, Brian Stempien, flew his Cobra helicopter for the event, along with several other Marines in his unit. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about what some of these men and their families have sacrificed. Brian himself has had two tours of Iraq and one of Okinawa. The other men have had similar experiences.

What is striking is how bright and capable all of these men are. They are all college graduates from outstanding universities…all polite and articulate…and all stand ready to defend their country. They’re young, intelligent, successful and clearly among America’s best and brightest.

Flying Under the Radar

Of course, the jets that flew in the show got a great deal of attention, because they are big, fast and a lot more visible. The men and women who fly them are also among our best and brightest. Still, by comparison, the Cobra unit and the Huey’s that accompanied them got very little attention. Most of the names of the jet pilots were mentioned, but not those of the Cobra and Huey pilots. In fact, the narrator’s only comment was that Cobras were active in the Vietnam War.

That’s true, but Cobras were also active in the Gulf, Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. Consider this from an online article I read:

“During the March 2003 Iraq campaign, 46 of 58 USMC Cobras took battle damage, mostly from infantry-type weapons. In late August 2016, Marine AH-1W Cobras flying from the USS Wasp started flying combat missions over Libya against the Islamic State of Iraq…providing close air support for friendly militias on the ground.”

As I reflected upon all of this, I was reminded of a very important leadership lesson. Often the more visible folks who sometimes travel in the fast lane seem to get a lot of attention. However, real success is not only the result of visible leadership, it also comes from leaders working quietly in the background to provide support for their teams.

Not that CEOs are unimportant. They are just as vital as generals are in the military, particularly if they’re what Jim Collins described as Level 5 leaders. Still, often there are other leaders operating in the background that contribute greatly to the success of the team, the business, the organization. Every once in a while, their contributions need to be recognized and made visible.

We Salute You, Lt. Colonel Stempien

To that end, I want to recognize my son-in-law, Lt. Colonel Brian Stempien. This week Brian will assume dual command of two Cobra Helicopter reserve units for the USMC. Not many people will know about this change of command.

True Brian’s wife Sarah, his five children, his extended family and his law partners at Travis, Herbert and Stempien will all know. But I want as many people as possible to know. I’m proud of Brian, his quiet leadership and his 21 years of service to our country. He has proven that he clearly takes the USMC motto “Semper fi” to heart.

And for all of you who have leaders like Brian in your company, your church or your nonprofit organization, why don’t you take a few minutes to recognize their contributions.

Finally, to all of our readers and to everyone else, let me just say as we do in Kentucky, “Happy Derby!”

Leaders Acknowledge Contributions

What may start as a trusting relationship often erodes when people take each other for granted. For example, higher turnover rates among employees can sometimes signal a lack of appropriate recognition. While taking people for granted happens regularly in organizations, it also has adverse effects on productivity. When leaders fail to acknowledge the value and contributions of followers, it doesn’t take long for them to stop contributing.

Being Motivated by Hearing What You do Right

For leaders to build a foundation of trust requires not only giving people meaningful work to do but also treating them well as they do it. An important part of treating people well is acknowledging their contributions. In fact, a 2013 Globoforce study showed that 89 percent of people are more motivated by hearing what they’re doing right than by hearing what they’re doing wrong. Likewise, nearly 80 percent of study participants looked for recognition to be given close to the time they performed.   In nonprofit fundraising recognizing and appreciating donors and volunteers for their contributions is key to retention.

John Wooden is arguably the most successful college basketball coach ever. In the 1960’s and 70’s he guided UCLA to an incredible ten national championships in eleven years. When I interviewed Coach Wooden, he noted that it was essential to acknowledge the contributions of all players on his team, regardless of how small their role was. He illustrated this point by sharing an analogy he used with his players,

“I would say, we’re like a powerful automobile and this player…Jabbar, is the powerful engine. You now, are only a wheel; and you over here are only a nut that holds that wheel on. Now which is most important? What good is that engine if we don’t have wheels? What if you don’t have the nuts holding that wheel on? You also need somebody behind that wheel directing or you’ll go in circles. You all have an important part. I made a special effort at practice to let those who aren’t playing very much know how much I appreciated them.”

Receiving Recognition Beyond the Ordinary

Appropriate recognition comes in many forms, but to be effective occasionally it should go beyond the ordinary. Sometimes that means allowing contributors to share in the profits. For example, San Antonio Shoe Company in Pittsfield, Maine made national news one year when owners of the privately held companies recognized employees in a special way. Right before Christmas the management team gathered employees and announced that they’d receive a one-time bonus. Each employee would receive $1,000 for every year of continuous service. In their announcement, they thanked employees for their loyalty and dedication and for helping make San Antonio Shoe Company a success.

In the case of one married couple, each spouse had worked for the company for 19 years, which meant together they received $38,000. While that level of profit sharing is not always possible, in this case it went a long way towards acknowledging the contributions of workers and building good will and trust. In fact, the company website says, “San Antonio Shoemakers has built the company around appreciating and respecting our workers.”

In other words, appreciation and respect are keys to their success. Getting more from relationships requires giving more, and when people begin to trust and give freely they move out of the realm of contracts and into the realm of covenants. Certainly, covenants are far more complicated than contracts. They require leader and follower willingness to trust one another and give rather than just receive from the relationship. In essence, it means acknowledging contributions of each other, but it also means sharing talents, resources, problems and even revenues in ways that create a culture of mutual trust and productivity. As fundraising consultants, we advise our clients to create covenants with donors, staff and volunteers to build engagement and retention.


When a leader’s integrity is questioned, the entire organization is often affected. That’s particularly true when pastors are charged with integrity breaches. Why does it happen? How does it happen? Consider the following illustration from an older but still famous case.

Jim Bakker wanted to serve God when he founded PTL in 1974. Many people who shared that vision joined him in his work. The ministry espoused Biblical principles and projected an image consistent with high ethical standards. Thousands of people trusted Jim and Tammy Faye, and in a very real sense they made a covenant commitment to the ministry. In fact, PTL referred to donors as partners. However, the entire ministry lacked fundraising accountability. It was easier to get things done that way, and their many abuses are now well known.

Lack of Accountability Brings Integrity Beaches

It’s hard to say exactly when Mr. Bakker lost sight of his obligation to the organization, the people and the common purpose he’d served. However, that breach became obvious in 1987 when he resigned, admitting to an extramarital affair and financial scandal. The covenant he shared with his wife, employees and partners had been broken, and his integrity had been deeply compromised in large part because he lacked accountability. At best his board rubber-stamped everything he wanted to do.

Two years later he was indicted on 24 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. It became evident that Mr. Bakker had trashed the principles he espoused in favor of selfish motives, opulence and power. Eventually he was convicted of defrauding followers of $150 million. As a result of his lack of integrity and accountability in his relentless pursuit of increasing donations, the noble purpose and the common good it served were lost.

Effective Leaders are Guided by Principles not Power

Jim Bakker served 5-years of an 8-year sentence, eventually being released for good behavior. The lesson of leadership here is clear. Most organizational heads have power. How they use power, and whether or not it’s aligned with key principles, determines whether they’re leading or power-wielding. In Mr. Bakker’s case he abused his positional power, compromised his integrity and violated the trust of followers.

As a result of violating that covenant he forfeited his credibility and his opportunity to lead. He chose his own self-interest over the common good, and a lot of people got hurt. Effective leadership demands that principles and not power guide the leader’s actions. Apart from that, it’s impossible to achieve trust or mutual accountability, both of which followers desire. This does not suggest that leaders never use power, but their power use must be guided by common principles that everyone understands.

Relying on Transcendent Truth

That’s exactly the idea upon which the civil rights movement was built. In his Letter from Birmingham City Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. said simply that, “just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.” Dr. King argued further that God’s law is objective moral truth, and therefore authoritative and superior to man’s law.

Whether it’s a business, a charity or a church, ethical and responsible behavior must align with common principles that come primarily from God’s law. However, if principles are relative, then what’s considered “ethical” and “constructive” changes based on situations and preferences. However, today that logic would have defeated the civil rights movement and dissipated its moral high ground because Dr. King relied on Biblical truth to support his mission.

In Jim Bakker’s case he showed contempt not only for civil law, but also for God’s law and he paid a price. Hopefully, other pastors and leaders will learn more about leadership from Martin Luther King’s accomplishments than from Mr. Bakker’s mistakes by building accountability structures and leading by truth.

Grace and Forgiveness - Essentials for Effective Leadership

Lessons from Les Miserables

I’ve had the good fortune of seeing both the movie and Broadway production of Victor Hugo’s, Les Miserables. It’s a moving story of both the healing power of forgiveness and the self-destructive nature of un-forgiveness and vengeance.

The story opens with Valjean being released after 19-years in prison for stealing bread. Homeless and destitute, he’s a hardened man. His fortune changes when a kindly bishop provides him food and lodging. Evidently, his kindness is of little consequence, because Valjean steals the Bishop’s silverware and flees. He’s soon caught by police, but the Bishop covers for Valjean and tells them it was a gift. This hardened and bitter man is transformed by the Bishop’s act of grace and forgiveness.

Valjean gives up his bitterness, moves away and leads a humble and transformed life. He changes his name, builds a successful business and becomes mayor of a small town. However, he’s allegedly violated parole and the vengeful police inspector Javert begins pursuing him. All is well until Javert arrives in Valjean’s town. He recognizes Valjean and plots to expose and capture him, but Valjean flees to Paris. The story takes an interesting twist as Valjean extends kindness to Javert, helping him escape from French revolutionaries.

How Grace and Forgiveness Can Transform Organizations

The story shows the contrast between Valjean who’s been transformed by grace and forgiveness and Javert who, being extended the same grace and forgiveness, is not transformed. While Javert’s relentless pursuit makes Valjean’s life miserable, eventually Valjean’s kindness overcomes the inspector’s lack of forgiveness. However, rather than respond in kind Javert commits suicide.

The point here is that forgiveness is possible only when leaders give up their right to vengeance. In that sense it is giving the gift of forgiveness to others. Javert couldn’t forgive (or receive forgiveness) because he couldn’t give up that right and eventually it destroyed him.

What I find interesting is when mistakes are made inside organizations CEOs or key managers sometimes act like Javert and refuse to give up their right to vengeance. That’s particularly true when their personal agendas have been hurt or sidetracked. Instead of forgiving the offending party, they get angry, seek revenge and demand justice in ways that make offenders pay. Of course, payment can be extracted by hurting the offender’s career, assaulting his or her character or excluding that person in spiteful ways. This can be true in nonprofit fundraising organizations as well as corporations. The methods may vary, but vengeance that comes from an unforgiving heart is destructive both to individuals and organizations.

For leaders to build long-term success, they must recognize that everyone has flaws and eventually they’ll all make mistakes. Modern day organizational Javerts who fix blame instead of fixing problems are incapable of inspiring others to greatness. Instead of leading they’d rather wield power and control people through fear and intimidation. However, that disrupts organizational momentum and damages what could be productive relationships.

Consultant Brian Fulghum shared his experience of introducing grace into international companies, Grace doesn’t mean we just blindly forgave everything and didn’t use disciplinary processes; rather it means that we had intentional, moderate, and “care-full” policies and processes that didn’t burn people, even when we had to let them go…practicing discipline not from anger but because it’s in peoples’ best interest…policies and procedures…that would not throw our staff under the bus in our pursuit of profit.”

Grace Gives the Freedom to Risks

Simply stated, leaders, who endeavor to maximize the potential of individuals and organizations, must also give people the freedom to take risks and make mistakes without being lambasted every time something fails. Like the gracious Bishop, leaders who endeavor to transform followers and maximize their potential, must be willing to extend grace and have tolerance for mistakes. As fundraising consultants, we remind leaders that it’s only then that people feel safe enough to trust, become vulnerable and take risks that are in the organization’s best interest.

Leaders Have Vision, Refuse to be Defeated and Rarely Lose Hope

An American Hero

Next week we’ll travel to Virginia to celebrate the birthday of one of the finest examples of a leader I know. My father-in-law, George Rogers, will be 99. His corporate career has many unique features and accomplishments. Yet, it was his early life that helped forge his amazing character and strong sense of purpose.

In 1941 most Americans were enlisting in the service. George, a young 20-something had grown up fatherless and quite poor. He signed up to go to the Philippines, because the recruiter called it, “The poor man’s paradise.” Arriving in October, he and six others were assigned to the 4th Separate Chemical Company. Unfortunately, George was the only one of the seven to survive.

After the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese landed the next day near Luzon in the Philippines. In January the allied troops retreated to Manila and then to Bataan under heavy fire. On April 9, 1942, after fierce fighting, General Edward King finally surrendered.

Bataan Death March

The surviving forces, numbering about 76,000 Americans and Filipinos, were forced to march over 100 kilometers in what became known as the Bataan Death March. The trip lasted several days in scorching heat, with no planned food or water stops. Since the troops had been on limited rations, they were already weak and tired. Men carried sick friends but as they fell, they’d be shot, stabbed by bayonets or run over by tanks. By the end of the march, 10,000 men had died. Immediately, survivors were loaded into steel boxcars and shipped to Camp O’Donnell with temperatures inside reaching 120 degrees.

George and the other prisoners were eventually shipped to Japan and forced into hard labor in a steel mill. During 3 1/2 years in prison camp, George was on a starvation diet that left his 6’3″ frame weighing only 85 pounds. In addition to the hard work, he endured beatings, humiliation, Malaria, Dry Beriberi, dysentery, burying 1,600 Americans and much more at the hands of his captors.

Faith and Vision Fuel Survival

Nevertheless, despite these circumstances; he wasn’t defeated and he never lost hope. George told me he survived in captivity, because of two things. First, he believed in God. That faith helped him understand that despite his circumstances, God cared about George. He still had a purpose for him, and He would see George through this one day at a time. The confidence and strong sense of self this gave him, allowed George to be optimistic instead of bitter and defeated. He noted that prisoners who lacked this sense of transcending purpose were quickly overwhelmed and often died.

Second, those beliefs helped George create a vision, which transcended his present circumstances and encouraged him to plan for the future. After the war he’d go home, date and then marry Barbara Randall. He’d graduate from St. Louis University, secure a good paying job and help raise a large family. George pondered that vision and discussed it with a friend. The meaning it provided helped sustain him:

“You must have something to look forward to,” said George. “We had nothing. Our news was sometimes a year old, and we never got mail. Having something to look forward to was helpful. We talked about the Randall girls. I was going to marry Barbara”.

Before being released to civilian life, George and the rest of the prisoners received a pep talk of sorts, from a team of American doctors.

“They said I’d probably be dead at 45,” And, “Don’t bother with college or think about having children.” They said my eyes, teeth and hair would all be gone. Well they were wrong! I graduated with honors in three years. I married Barbara…had five wonderful children…and 14 grandkids. I still have my teeth, eyes and hair… I just took the positive approach.

George’s experience offers a powerful illustration of how faith combined with a strong sense of purpose and clear vision can sustain leaders in the midst of very bleak circumstances. They certainly helped George achieve a fulfilling life and career that continued into his early 90s.

Happy Birthday Pop

He certainly is my hero and I honor and thank him today for his leadership and sacrificial service to our country, for his unconditional love and example to his family and for his inspirational walk through life…Happy Birthday Pop!!

Anticipating the Resurrection

We’re now in Easter week, the most sacred time in Christendom. Well, you might ask, what really is Lent all about? A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that, “Lent has evolved into a self-help program for many people who give up candy, carbs and alcohol for 40 days before Easter.”

About Lent

Traditionally, Lent starts Ash Wednesday, where we’re reminded that we came from dust and we’ll return to dust. Ashes also signify mourning and repentance for sins we’ve committed. It begins a period of prayer, fasting and service, a time of reflection but also thanksgiving. Not all Christians observe Lent, but those who do are encouraged to reflect on Jesus Christ’s death by crucifixion, burial in a tomb and resurrection from the dead.

That reflection also evokes thanksgiving, because Christ’s work was for each of us. Let me explain. I grew up in the inner city on Chicago’s south side. I was raised without a mother (she died when I was 8) by an abusive father, who was pretty much absent during my teens. Needless to say, I had opportunities aplenty to get into trouble. I exercised those frequently through shoplifting, underage drinking, fighting, etc. So I don’t glorify my sin, let’s just say many other misdeeds.

It toned down somewhat when I went to college. This came as a shock to many of my teachers. In fact, after a low score on my ACT (I actually drank until 2AM the night before) my senior guidance counselor told me that “I would never amount to anything.”

I continued on the wild side through college and even after graduation. However, I started wondering why I wasn’t happy. I received a clear answer on that. I believe God told me in a thought that was foreign to my thinking, “Leonard, if you thought about someone besides yourself, you might start to find a path towards happiness.”

Life Change

I committed simply to try that with the next woman I dated. She would later become my wife. One day before our wedding my soon-to-be mother-in-law saw she had a captive audience. She began to tell me about Jesus. In fact, just about all of her words were about Jesus, and I had no choice but to listen. At the time it seemed a bit over the top, but she connected the dots on things I’d heard before in Catholic schools. Jesus loved me…He’s alive as much today as He ever was…and all I needed to do was to pray and invite Him into my life. He’d bring me peace, transformation, direction and eternal life if I just trusted Him.

I did that very thing several decades ago, and now I understand those benefits even more fully. That’s why Lent also evokes thanksgiving. Jesus paid a heavy price for my salvation. Yet, not only did He save me, He also turned my life around. And not only mine, but He also did the same for my father.

Lasting Peace

Is Lent about self-help, I guess to some extent it can be. I mean all of us would probably benefit from a little more fasting, but we’d also benefit from a little more prayer and a little more reflection on Jesus’ sacrifice and what it means. If this is even partly about self-help, then Jesus and the Gospel are really the impetus. So as Lent comes to a close, if you’ve never had the kind of peace I described, then I encourage you to do what I did. Pray and ask Jesus to come into your life and trust that He will do just that.

And finally I wish all of you a happy Resurrection day with that famous paschal greeting, “He is risen, He is risen indeed!”

Leaders Sacrifice Self-Interest and Recognize Responsibility to Others

Leaders who understand and then pursue a common purpose also serve their own self-interests. However, in covenant leadership those benefits must also extend to others involved in the relationship. By definition, common purpose considers both responsibility to and consideration for the interests of others involved (stakeholders or followers). If I need to engage followers, then it makes sense that my interests must extend beyond self. That means demonstrating a commitment not only to organizational wellbeing, but also to the personal and/or professional wellbeing of followers.

“Astro”-nomical Results

For example, in 2017 the Houston Astros won a World Series, by focusing on team rather than individual performance. Certainly individual performance was important; but it was balanced by what was best for the team. At times that meant a power hitter laid down a bunt and sacrificed individual glory for overall team performance. For that to happen, leaders must create a culture of “sacrificing self-interest” to achieve a greater good. That usually occurs when leaders model that attribute themselves, and then find and reward others who follow their lead. It requires leaders to strike a balance between their own self-interest and their responsibility to others.

Good to Great Leaders

Achieving that balance and building that culture requires a certain amount of selfless humility. That’s exactly what Jim Collins discovered in his study of “Good to Great” companies (eleven companies returning an average of $471 for every $1 invested over 35 years). He found that the most effective leaders (level five leaders) are a “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” Now he’s not talking about weakness. Instead he’s describing leaders who are secure enough to check their egos at the door and then do what’s best for the company. In other words, high performing “Good to Great” organizations are rarely about raising individual profiles of leaders. They’re about advancing the organization and its wellbeing. According to Collins, the lack of humility among high profile leaders is why they weren’t nearly as effective as the level 5 leaders.

Collins demonstrates that in order to achieve long-term, sustained results, leaders must focus more on the larger mission and less on themselves. As fundraising consultants, we know this to be true for nonprofit leaders this as well. Recognizing and acting on one’s responsibility to others and to a larger mission is also how leaders build credibility and motivate people to follow. It sometimes requires sacrificing self-interest and delaying immediate gratification in favor of longer-term success.

Selfless Pursuit of Liberty

Consider our founding fathers, leaders who covenanted together and sacrificed self-interest in favor of the common good. For example, John Witherspoon, Abraham Clark and Richard Stockton, were New Jersey delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Witherspoon was president of what eventually became Princeton. He fled with his family as the British occupied the college buildings and burned the library. Abraham Clark left his wife’s sick bed to flee from the British. When he returned his farm was destroyed, his wife had died and his children were gone. Richard Stockton had been a distinguished, wealthy man. He went into hiding until an informant told the British where he was. They dragged him out of hiding, stripped him, took his property and destroyed his home. In prison he was malnourished and regularly exposed to the cold, resulting in a disease that eventually killed him.

These men could have easily ignored this quest for liberty. Most were wealthy and lived comfortably. Still, wealth wasn’t their primary motivator; it was the quest that bound them together. That’s why they sacrificed their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. When leaders recognize their responsibility to others and sacrifice self-interest in favor of a larger purpose, it inspires followers to serve that same purpose in ways that endure.


Engaging Followers/Stakeholders by Elevating Them

Leaders have power to engage followers simply by elevating them in a variety of ways. Essentially, that involves leaders creating opportunities for followers or stakeholders to experience a sense of individual purpose. They do this typically by helping followers understand the larger purpose of the organization and then allowing followers to align with that purpose and use their gifts in pursuing it. This often has a transformational effect in ways that engage and elevate the awareness, motives, values and behavior of those followers. Abraham Lincoln was a transformational leader because of how he pursued the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and how he related to others when he did.

Lincoln on Leadership

Donald Phillips, author of Lincoln on Leadership, notes that Lincoln worked to “motivate and mobilize followers by persuading them to take ownership of their roles in a more grand mission.” Lincoln was able to engage, elevate and therefore transform followers because, as Phillips observed, “He treated everyone with the same courtesy and respect. He lifted people out of their everyday selves and into a higher level of performance (and) achievement. He obtained extraordinary results from ordinary people by instilling purpose in their endeavors.”

Greatest Leader of All Time

Perhaps the greatest example of a leader is Jesus. He understood and acted upon the purpose He had in common with His followers. In that process he also elevated, engaged and transformed them by using their talents to help advance the cause. Robert Greenleaf, author of Servant Leadership described Jesus as “a leader in the fullest meaning of the term.”

Likewise, leadership guru and author, Ken Blanchard said, “After studying both the theory and practice of leadership, I have found that Jesus is the greatest leadership model of all times.”

Though He was an acclaimed and revered teacher and prophet, Jesus lived a humble life of service and commitment to His disciples. He had a clear purpose for His followers and He made that purpose well known: “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” They would experience that abundant life by believing in Jesus and His promises, living by the principles He taught and spreading the Gospel to the world. Jesus invested time and energy in teaching and mentoring the apostles, and as a result they were eventually transformed into leaders.

Through His revolutionary teaching, along with His life of service and His death, Jesus established a common purpose and a new and powerful covenant with His followers. That new covenant elevated and transformed followers. By helping His followers understand and embrace their common purpose and giving them crucial roles, He also inspired and engaged their commitment. In fact, among His closest disciples all of them were willing to suffer persecution, and all but one of them died for the cause.

Peter Drucker on Leadership

Similarly, when leaders make and keep promises in pursuit of a common purpose, promises that serve both the organization and its people, it builds credibility and trust. No doubt it also demonstrates the leader’s integrity. That makes it safe for people to engage, follow and thereby be transformed. The late Peter Drucker put it this way:

“The final requirement of effective leadership is to earn trust. Otherwise, there won’t be any followers – and the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. To trust a leader, it is not necessary to like him. Nor is it necessary to agree with him. Trust is the conviction that the leader means what he says. It is a belief in something very old-fashioned, called ‘integrity.’ A leader’s actions and a leader’s professed beliefs must be congruent, or at least compatible.”

Leaders Engaging Stakeholders

A key characteristic of leaders in any capacity is their ability to engage stakeholders. What or who is a stakeholder? It is anyone who has a stake in the future of the organization.

In churches it is the pastor, staff, membership and lay leadership. Specifically, the leadership involves such groups as the Parish Council, the Vestry, the Session, the Deacons or the Elders. They have responsibility for church oversight, particularly in areas of spirituality, service and financial stewardship.

Likewise, in a business stakeholders are comprised of the administration, staff, board and customers; and in a nonprofit organization they are the CEO, staff, board and the people being served. So the question is, why and how do you engage them?

Why Organizations Want to Engage Their Stakeholders

According to a 2012 Gallup study of nearly 50,000 work units and 1.4 million people, employee engagement is directly related to productivity, profitability and other measures of success.

Specifically, those work units in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability, and 21% in productivity. Those work units also saw significantly lower turnover, shrinkage, and absenteeism as well as fewer safety incidents, patient safety incidents, and quality defects.

Of course, these results are similar in the nonprofit sector. In fact, a Cranfield University report on stakeholder engagement said that very thing. “Stakeholder engagement is relevant to any type of organization: business, public or civil society.”

How Organizations Engage Their Stakeholders

Of course, there are lots of routes to engage stakeholders, but it boils down to understanding the needs and wants of stakeholders, building trust by aligning appropriate practices with those needs and wants and giving up some control.

Unfortunately, while all of that sounds good, another Gallup study revealed that 70% percent of American workers are not engaged in their work. Gallup described “engaged” employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”

Not surprisingly, the study showed that people with the most power in the organization (executives, managers, and officers) were also reported as having the highest levels of engagement. Unfortunately, what we have learned from the unengaged in the corporate sector applies in the nonprofit sector as well. The level of Board, volunteer and donor engagement will have a significant effect on fundraising efforts and organizational morale.

Simply stated, organizational leaders can have high levels of engagement or control, but they can’t have both. For example, if you improve your engagement of board members, staff and donors, you are likely to see increases in giving. However, in order to increase engagement, you have to also give up some control.

A Prime Example

One of our clients provides an interesting case study. It just so happened that the technology in a well-used room was nearly 20 years old and considerably outdated. There were several engineers and a high-ranking officer at a world-class technology company who were among the folks who used that room. They offered to update the equipment at their expense, providing much improved technology along with the installation. It was a gift worth $7,000-$8,000.

They coordinated with appropriate staff, and in particular, the technology professional who began to assert his authority. The bureaucratic controls that were initially put on the process and the people were so inflexible that the staff member dampened engagement and nearly killed the deal.

The point is that, engaging people requires that we acknowledge that they have something to offer and then allow them to offer it. While it sounds simple, you’d be surprised how often people and organizations miss that point! Whether it’s in a church, a nonprofit or a company people want to be empowered to contribute and they want their contributions to be recognized.

Fundraising Basics - Building a Successful Fundraising Program

Whether you’re intending to embark on a capital campaign or you’re implementing a brand new annual campaign, there are at least 5 basic fundamentals that are essential to success. These include:

  1. Vision –While your mission is a statement of who you are and why you exist, a vision is a statement of what you want to be or what you want to become over the next 3-5 years. It is a planned path to the future and it must be strong, compelling and well conceived. Major donors want to know that you not only have a vision but that it’s also something you have developed through due your diligence.
  2. A Plan – A solid, compelling vision typically comes from a planning process. Your vision is a statement of what you want to be or what you want to become over the next 3-5 years. However, an effective planning process helps you decide that, but what you need for fundraising doesn’t stop there. Within the strategic plan you also have to create a comprehensive fundraising plan that is tied to achieving the vision. That plan should encompass all aspects of fundraising (Annual giving, planned giving, major gifts, direct mail, etc.) as well as PR and marketing.
  3. Prospects – In most organizations fundraising success is related to the size and quality of your prospect pool. If you don’t have enough prospects, there are certainly ways to expand your prospect pool. However, that’s not your only concern. Beyond having a sizable prospect pool, you also need in depth information on individuals in that pool and connections with volunteers. That comes usually through a review of donor histories, sharing of anecdotal information and conducting a wealth screening of your database.
  4. Leadership – That starts with the CEO. He or she must be committed and passionate about what the organization is doing. If it’s just a job to the CEO, then he or she will be nowhere near as effective as someone who is passionate about the cause. That goes for the staff as well. I’ve seen many a board member get inspired by the work and commitment of staff.

Finally, this also applies to the board. I’ve said before that if the board, those closest to the organization aren’t willing to get involved passionately with the organization, then it’s difficult to expect others to do the same. Of course that may require a bit of orientation, training and coaching, but if you don’t have good leadership to help raise the organizational visibility, open doors and make calls, you’re not likely to have great success.

In fact, as fundraising consultants, our company does quite a bit of board training. We cover board responsibilities and governance issues, but the largest number of training requests we receive is in the area of fundraising.

5. Action – You can have a compelling vision, a well-conceived plan, a rich prospect pool, and a committed leadership group. However, all of that is for naught if you don’t have action. What I mean by action is setting appointments, telling the story and making the asks. If you don’t have that you aren’t likely to achieve your goals.

You Must Make the Ask

You simply cannot raise money unless someone asks someone else to give. What I have found interesting is that most campaigns slow down or stall not because of a lack of prospects. They slow down or stall because of a lack of staff and volunteers setting appointments, telling the story and making asks.

If you build your program with all of the above elements, I have no doubt that you’ll be successful regardless of the kind of fundraising you initiate.