If you are a successful gift officer, you might view your role as a bit like a conduit – a connector that weds donor interests with the needs of your institution. The best gift officers have carefully crafted questions and strategies designed to engage prospective donors so that deep understanding of values, beliefs, and interests can occur. This is a skill of “story-listening” that I’ve written about before. It is a skill that all high-level, productive gift officers possess.
However, when the best gift officers grow into leaders of the advancement enterprise, there is an additional and different skill set that is needed. Specifically, the best advancement leaders aren’t solely conduits, they serve their teams as conductors.
Conductors guide and encourage the best from others in a team environment. They persuade and influence and they interpret context in order to keep the team moving forward toward an agreed upon goal. Think of the choral or orchestra conductor who provides encouragement, direction, guidance and leadership to a team of musicians, all with a nuanced wave of his hand and/or baton.
Being a conductor means that you must possess a vision and set a course – a plan and direction for where you desire the team to go. While conduits can work ably once a direction has been set, conductors must set the direction and then provide the creative energy which encourages others to move forward in an integrated manner. Leadership isn’t simply implementing plans. It is creating compelling plans that others are enthusiastic about helping to implement.
Both the conduit and the conductor are vitally important to an advancement team’s success. The two roles are very distinct with contrasting skill sets. But, the very best conduits and conductors do one thing exceptionally well: they both actively listen to others.