Six years ago, I became a Senior Advisor with Armstrong McGuire.
Recently I was taking a walk and listening to a podcast where a researcher I admire was interviewed. The host asked her, after 13 years of research and 6 books, what have you learned? I was shocked and in awe of the fact that in three simple bullets she was able to eloquently summarize the key findings of her life’s work.
As I finished my walk (where I do my best thinking), I realized that what I have learned over the past six years also comes back to three simple foundational elements. Although it rarely feels simple when you are living through it.
When organizations identify their pain points or opportunities, it always points back to leadership, vision, and communication. These are critical elements for any impactful organization, and while easy to articulate, they take a great commitment of time, energy, and humility to execute well.
As a development professional, I also know these elements are critical for financial sustainability. Here are some things I have learned:
-Leadership: If your leaders are not personally invested in your mission, no one else will be. Chief executives and board members must lead with passion and a deep understanding of why your mission is critical. If your leaders cannot convince themselves to endorse and support your mission, why will anyone else?
-Vision: You must know where you are heading. Without a true north star, an understanding of the path that leads to your star, and an ability to articulate the impact you are having along the journey, it is hard to define your organizational why. Why does your work matter? Why is investment critical now? What is your call to action? Without answers to these questions, it is hard to inspire investors.
-Communication: We often think about communication as the messages we share externally, and while those messages are important, internal communication might be even more critical. If communication is not occurring thoughtfully and regularly on multiple levels throughout the organization, there is no way to maximize your efforts. Holding ownership of your ideas or keeping them in a silo does not allow them to grow or for others to make them stronger. The most effective leaders share ideas and allow teams and individuals to add to them, identifying potential partners or investors that may be overlooked otherwise.
Leadership, Vision, and Communication: together, these elements shape your case for support—your reason why funding your mission is critical, now. What I have ultimately learned over my 20+ years in development work (math is funny because I still feel 25 on good days) is that to do development well your case cannot be made up to fit funding opportunities. It cannot be adapted to “sell” easily. It must be rooted in community need, to solve a problem, and inspire change. It requires leaders who are deeply committed to the work; a clear vision of where you are heading, and a willingness to share ideas in real time. Together, these things shape your organizational why.
I felt called to nonprofit work in high school because I was inspired by passionate people coming together to solve a problem. The collective efforts of the group was always exponentially better than a few. Together, we knew our why.
Now, almost 30 years later it still comes back to the why, the people, and sharing the story.