“When I buy businesses, it’s the same as investing in philanthropy. I’m looking for somebody who will get the job done and is in synch with my goals. You can have the greatest goals in the world, but if you have the wrong people running it, it isn’t going to work. On the other hand, if you’ve got the right person running it, almost anything is possible.”
Classic Warren Buffett. He is quoted here last week at a panel discussion on antipoverty in New Orleans. As usual, insightful stuff.
I encountered the same “leader first” philosophy when I visited an Executive Director of a national foundation a number of years ago. I was there to meet the ED and to say thanks in person as they had recently started supporting the College I served.
The ED had a single question for me during our visit:”What do you think of your president?” I told him I thought our president was a planful leader who had a history of achieving goals. The ED said, “Good, that’s what we thought as well, which is why we started providing support to you last year. We bet on him. We believed he would do what he said he would. And so far he has.”
Warren Buffett is an investor. The ED of the foundation I visited was an investor. Your major donors are investors. Investors invest not in ideas as much as in people. Ideas are everywhere and many of them may work at solving a particular problem. The difference always is the people implementing the ideas.
Unfortunately, I see organizations who regularly get too caught up with the idea. They think their particular goals, their new strategic plan, their ideas for a project or initiative will be enough to excite and captivate donors into giving. An organization’s enthusiasm for an idea can cloud this reality: a donor’s confidence in an organization’s leadership trumps the appeal of the organization’s ideas.
As Buffett says, “if you’ve got the right person running it, almost anything is possible.” The real question, then, is what are you doing to make sure that your major donors really know you? Because investors do invest in people.