My colleagues and I at JGA have had occasion over more than two decades now at hundreds of nonprofits to watch presidents and CEOs in action. The unique skill – and a fundraising best practice – that always captures our attention almost more than anything else is the way that some of them engage their entire institutions in a vision for “what can be.”
I’ve recently observed several leaders who have quietly displayed remarkable ability to do this.
To be sure, there are so many different and additional roles for a president as to be nearly impossible to write them all down. But when a president leads and causes everyone to think about and then, in many different ways, to become part of a shared vision for the future, it is magical.
We’ve thought about this a lot. And, as mentioned above, we’ve observed many leaders do this. Some appear to do this almost effortlessly. They hear the collective yearnings of groups – volunteers, donors, staff, students, or faculty – often expressed in completely disorganized fashion over a long period of time and then give voice to ways to act on those yearnings.
It’s so powerful when a leader articulates how to go forward when it is something you have hoped for at your organization. Other leaders really struggle with it and yet find a way to get a set of unifying ideas or themes expressed. And some never seem to find their way.
We’ve noted that when it does happen, a leader usually has found a way to:
- Stir the ideas and suggestions of others into a way forward that has many persons – from different walks – say “That’s what I think we should do;”
- Articulate the vision in ways that allow many to see how they can individually help to make it become reality;
- Combine several reasons or outcomes for the vision, so that many positives result (increased impact, more student faculty interaction, greater revenue) making “all boats rise with the tide;”
- Issue a challenge or inspire people to understand that attaining the vision may require a lot of hard work but that it will be worth it; that the striving itself is worth the effort; and,
- Create excitement about what it will be like when the vision is achieved.
The most common characteristic of a successful vision is when all or most of the persons with the organization come to think that it is their vision, their idea --- and often forget that it was the president or CEO who first suggested it.
It leads to unified action and shared accomplishment, all too rare in many walks of life today, and is such a privilege for us to a part of and to support.