CDE project 17 sec­tion 3.1: peo­ple build great relationships

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 23, 2017
Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.

Norman Schwarzkopf

When we asked Liz Tait, Director of Fundraising at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, what kind of leadership is most likely to create a great experience for donors, she paused for a moment. Then she stated with complete conviction:

‘You have to be passionate about your people’. When we asked what she meant, she explained she has adopted the philosophy of one of her early mentors, who told her that ‘there wasn’t a member of my team that I wouldn’t die in a ditch for’. 

She explained that for her, leadership in fundraising is about caring about the people you work with. ‘You have to treat everyone with respect and compassion at every level…and you have to recruit other people who will do the same.’ 

She said it starts with recruitment, and goes on to how you invest in and support their development. She stressed the importance of really high standards when recruiting: ‘I look out for people that really have an appetite to deliver something special for this charity…and I look for other managers who are passionate about, who care deeply about their people.’ 

This is consistent with the findings of Great Fundraising, a year-long study of what factors lead to outstanding fundraising. The authors stated, ‘great leaders allocate a substantive proportion of their time to appointing or developing exceptional teams…’

When we asked Liz which group received more of her energy and focus, supporters or her internal colleagues, she said that it was her people. She said that she cared deeply about her supporters too, but that for her, her colleagues came first. 

Donor-focussed fundraising requires a leader to care deeply about the mission of creating outstanding experiences and relationships with supporters. Providing those experiences must remain the target, the definition of what success looks like. The fascinating challenge is that if you are to achieve it, it must be achieved through your people. 

In theory, solving this challenge is simple, but we have observed that in practice it is not always easy. Most fundraising leaders are, at heart, great fundraisers who have succeeded in their early roles because they prioritize the donor when deciding how to spend their time. As a leader, it can be very tempting to spend your much of your time and energy here. One leader we interviewed told me her biggest challenge is that because she spends so much time with supporters and donors, she often feels she has not spent enough time with her colleagues.

What is smart about Liz’s strategy of putting colleagues first is that the more valued your people feel, the greater the level of trust they have in you, the more likely they are to go the extra mile to make their supporters feel the same way. Put simply, people-focussed leadership makes for donor-focussed fundraising.

Last December, one of us went to John Lewis for some Christmas shopping, which involved going to several different departments. On three different occasions, the staff went out of their way to help find solutions in ways that we had not asked for or even known to ask for. What do you think John Lewis leaders need to do to create an environment in which everyone consistently displays this ‘going the extra mile’ behaviour? 

We believe that sharing a common vision for what success looks like and creating a shared consciousness so that everyone is empowered are both important elements of their culture. Even if you have these two things, though, if people don’t feel their leaders care, it still won’t work. For John Lewis staff to act so consistently in this way, they must feel that their leaders genuinely care about them, so that, as Simon Sinek says in Leaders Eat Last, they feel safe enough to take risks.

This is more about integrity than strategy, but when you think about it, Liz’s attitude to her people does absolutely drive great experiences for the supporters of her charity. When you feel your leaders go the extra mile for you, it’s far more likely you will go the extra mile for the donors you serve.

Of all the ingredients to create great leadership practice, this one sounds the simplest. Care about your people and spend time and attention developing those relationships. In practice, however, it is not always easy, and so being honest with yourself and seeking feedback from others can only help.

In Leadership Plain and Simple, Steve Radcliffe asserts that incredibly often, the leaders he coaches have ‘done a great job on vision, strategy, budgets or plans’, but they aren’t getting results because people aren’t engaged. What’s missing is so clear – they haven’t got relationships big enough for people to be engaged…’ 

He goes on to write that ‘leadership is about what you’re like and how you come across, not what techniques you’ve got to bring to the party or what processes you want to put in place’. As Di Flatt, Chief Executive of Sweet Pea Charity and Greenhouse Fundraising observed, ‘how you come across’ usually improves when you’re willing to be more vulnerable and real in how you appear to your team.

When we asked Lisa Robinson, Corporate Fundraising Manager at The Children’s Society, whether she felt the environment was any different since Joe Jenkins had joined, she explained a number of ways he has helped people buy in to a new approach to building relationships with supporters. When we asked why the change seemed to be taking place, one of the first things she told me about was Joe’s manner. She said ‘when you talk to him, he always responds in an honest, considered, credible way. He does really listen. He lets you know his door is open if you want to come and discuss anything. He says that, and you know that he really means it.’

Click on the image below to view project 17 in full - PDF format.

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

Related case studies or articles

CDE project 17 summary: leadership

Building on previous learning this project will define what makes great fundraising leaders and what leadership they need from their senior management colleagues and their board if they are to deliver the competent, motivating leadership that will sustain and direct the new style of fundraising that is evolving in Britain.

Read more

CDE project 17 section 1: the approach

In this project we were seeking to answer the question: ‘What kind of leadership have you found increases the chances that a charity will operate in a donor-centred way?’

Read more

CDE project 17 section 2.1: introduction

‘It’s about giving and engaging people, it’s this lovely virtuous cycle where you get to give money, and you get to do something yourself that actually makes a difference.’

Read more

CDE project 17 section 2.2: ‘Define and champion’ and ‘Help people see’

‘You need to develop that sense of shared consciousness…so we all know what the picture is, what we’re striving collectively to do and we’ve got permission to get on and do it.’

Read more

CDE project 17 section 2.3: your organisation’s purpose

Focus attention on why changing the way you work with supporters is something you must do, not just something you should do.

Read more

CDE project 17 section 2.4: your definition of success

Define and reinforce what success looks like in terms of your supporter’s experience.

Read more

CDE project 17 section 2.5: relentlessly reinforce the vision and make it visible

Richard Spencer explained that one way he helped put the point of view of the supporter at the forefront of people’s minds was by circulating a weekly results update.

Read more

CDE project 17 section 3.2: inside-out leadership

It is not about changing others – it is about changing yourself first.

Read more

CDE project 17 section 3.3: trust - risk - people

Richard Turner said that one of the most powerful shifts he has ever made as a leader was deciding to spend time every week with the people he manages. 

Read more

CDE project 17 section 4.1: culture - create an adaptable, empowered environment

A major turning point for Solar Aid came when their leaders decided to focus their efforts on solving one challenge in particular: the fact that the most common source of light in the evening for many people was the kerosene lamp.

Read more

CDE project 17 section 4.2: the game is different now

The challenge is that the world in the 21st century is fundamentally different to the 20th century. Changes in technology have had a huge impact on the environment in which charities now operate.

Read more

CDE project 17 section 4.3: we now need a different kind of leadership

Develop a shared consciousness. Model it. Be consistent.

Read more

CDE project 17 section 4.4: devolve responsibility - growth mind-set

Empower everyone to think for themselves and take action.

Read more

CDE project 17 section 4.5: culture

Ideas and activities that will help you create an adaptable, empowered environment

Read more

CDE project 17 section 5: conclusion

If our charities are to respond and help supporters solve the problems they care about, leaders need to deliberately cultivate an environment that is adaptable, informed and empowered.

Read more