Multi-year, comprehensive campaigns have lots of moving parts and many engaged parties. There are many ways that campaigns can be successful (and, also, many ways they can fail). But, as with most things on which human cooperation depends, successful campaigns require effective leadership.
Specifically, there are 3 campaign decisions only leaders can (and should) make. Without a commitment to these decisions, a campaign will most likely fail or will be only marginally successful. Here are the 3 campaign decisions only a president, chancellor, CEO, or Executive Director can make:
- Finalizing Campaign Priorities – Yes, campaign priorities should be identified through inclusive strategic planning in which many institutional and community voices and perspectives are involved. Yes, campaign priorities should be tested during a Campaign Readiness Study, so that potential donor feedback is considered. But, after considering all this information and data, the final decisions regarding which priorities should be included as part of the campaign (and, thus, which priorities might remain institutional priorities but not included in the campaign), rests with the institutional administrative leader. Without this final decision, campaigns lose their ability to narrow the philanthropic focus of the institution, the advancement team, and, thus, donors.
- Keeping Campaign Priorities – If finalizing campaign priorities is an important leadership decision, then keeping the campaign priorities consistent throughout a multi-year campaign is a paramount leadership decision. When leaders waffle and when campaign priorities are viewed as fluid or likely to change, apathy builds within the fundraising team and disinterest emerges within the donor base. It is the role of the leader to ensure that campaign priorities stay campaign priorities and that all involved stay committed to the achievement of these priorities.
- Sharing the Responsibility of Campaign Success – Leadership is accurately defined by a set of social skills. Campaigns are wonderful opportunities to socialize success within and beyond the institution. For instance, are Board members increasing their giving for this campaign? Are major donors asking, “when are we going to reach our goal?” Are other institutional leaders visiting with donors in support of the campaign? Each of these behaviors indicates that the CEO has effectively shared the responsibility of the campaign’s success with others. If a leader does not do this consistently and well, the campaign won’t be as successful as it could be. When others care about the end result, they tend to do more to help success occur.
In popular culture, good leadership is often viewed as a solitary, even dictatorial, practice: The strongman/woman making a courageous choice. In the real world of organizations and institutions, however, successful leaders rarely resemble this profile.
Instead, while leaders must make key decisions in order for campaigns to be successful, there is a social aspect to these decisions. First, leaders should listen to the perspectives of others to determine a campaign’s priorities. Next, they should consistently remind everyone why these priorities remain important. And, finally, leaders should invite others to share the responsibility of making the campaign a success.
When leaders behave in these ways and commit to these decisions, campaigns aren’t the only beneficiaries.
In fact, entire institutions ascend when decisions only leaders can make are made.