Non-profit Leadership Development – The Ideal Practice Field
Nonprofit Leadership Development-Where is the best place to practice leadership skills?
By Bill Huddleston
Did you learn to swim by reading a book?
The answer of course is no, even if you did read about the different strokes, breathing methods and different types of kicks. Sooner or later, you actually had to get into the water.
In the realm of leadership development, the same principle applies. You can take very valuable and informative courses, you can read books, articles and blogs about the subject and talk to people as well as observe leaders in action. You can participate in valuable organizations that teach you and give you some experiential opportunities (such as Toastmasters International – which I highly recommend). To actually develop your leadership skills you have to lead people.
So where can you get practical experience in actually doing this? Eli Manning and Peyton Manning did not play their first football game in the Superbowl; Yo Yo Ma did not have his first concert at Carnegie Hall.
Even the best in the world find a good place to practice before the performance, and they devote the time and energy necessary to developing their skills before they go on stage whatever the specific type of stage is, including leadership in the non-profit sector.
Most leadership experts would agree that these skills are fundamental for all leaders:
• Interpersonal skills (including Team Building).
• Oral communication
• Written Communication
• Continual Learning
I would add that project management principles and skills are necessary for success in the 21st Century.
In the non-profit sector, whether you are an emerging leader eager to develop your own skills, or someone responsible for the leadership development program of your organization, there exists a unique opportunity to develop these skills, by participating in workplace giving campaigns, such as the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), America’s Charities Campaigns, and United Way campaigns, etc.
Workplace giving is a unique method of fundraising within the non-profit sector, and many think of it only in terms of fundraising. But workplace giving campaigns have unique benefits – which I call “Hidden Treasures.” Briefly, in workplace giving, the actual solicitations are performed by the employees of the organization, during the workday, hence the name “workplace giving.”
Some of the other “Hidden Treasures” of workplace giving campaigns include conducting inexpensive market research, leverage of your development efforts, and exposure to a much wider audience than is possible on your own, plus developing multiple year revenue streams.
However, the focus of this article is leadership development, and in workplace giving campaigns there are campaign events known as “charity fairs.” In a charity fair, selected charities from the workplace giving catalog are invited to come to the organization’s offices, and staff a table with their representatives, give out their materials, and answer any questions that the potential donors might ask. One of the biggest “hidden treasures” of workplace giving campaigns is that they can be the ideal “practice field” for emerging non-profit leaders.
Charity fairs are one of the best leadership development opportunities that exist in the non-profit world. Non-profits that have learned how to integrate workplace giving campaigns into their overall leadership development efforts can use them to provide low risk, high value opportunities to their staff in a number of areas, including project management, public speaking, and team building. For example, the skills that can be developed and practiced through participation in charity fairs include:
Oral Communication – public speaking skills –you can practice your “elevator speech” dozens of times in the course of a campaign.
Team Building – the non-profit action officer can get practical experience in creating and leading a team, whether they are paid staff or volunteers.
Listening Skills – the non-profit team will have the opportunity to listen to hundreds of people in your community – what are they saying, what’s most important to them, etc. These are your potential donors and supporters – does your mission resonate with them, are they aware of your organization, etc.?
Written Communication – there are multiple opportunities to develop one’s writing ranging from simple memos to an analysis of the comments from the members of the community that were made at the charity fairs that is prepared for the executive and board leadership.
The paradox of workplace giving programs is that precisely because they are not a high risk or high cost program they can be an ideal “practice field or rehearsal hall” for leadership development. No one is going to “blow” a major gift solicitation at a charity fair, but the future leader can gain experience in “reading people.”
To learn more about the world’s largest workplace giving campaign, the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), please go to the http://www.cfcfundraising website and request your copy of my free report about the CFC, which includes a brief description of how to apply for inclusion in America’s largest workplace giving campaign, the CFC.