Home Fundraising Gnarly Growth Part 5: How To Grow Your Leaders

Gnarly Growth Part 5: How To Grow Your Leaders

by Aplos Success Team
Building A Nonprofit Leadership Network

Miss the beginning of the series? Go to Gnarly Growth Part 1: A Creative Approach To A Traditional Fundraiser.

One of the difficult things about a first-time beard is that if you just let it go, every individual hair will grow in its own unique direction. I’ve found that you have to offer your beard a little love. As it grows out, you need to brush it a little (I prefer a brush to an official beard comb) and then admire it. I also found that frequent pep talks help keep it in line.

Brush. Brush. Admire.

The process can make your face sore. Some hairs don’t naturally want to fall in line. A few are literally trying to grow straight up, somehow expressing a desire to become part of your eyebrows. But if you keep brushing, they learn to listen for the voice saying, “Hey, we’re all growing this way.”

A similar phenomenon can occur when guiding leaders and participants through the fundraising process. You’ve recruited them with a stellar cause; the process has begun. But how do you help them stay invested, with a clear sense of where you’re headed, and allow them to thrive rather than just stand awkwardly like the one red whisker trying fervently to grow into my right nostril?

Nonprofit Leadership

Building Leaders For Your Cause

Everyone seems to be interested in leadership. There are a million different books, seminars, and blogs out there describing the essential characteristics of a leader. But what kind of leadership is most effective?

While I could offer a checklist of leadership styles and how organizations benefit most from each of them, checklists are not my passion. What I’d like to offer is my front-row view of the way Dave Obwald led during his fundraiser, Our Beards of Hope. You’ll be able to see what made it so effective and why his model is ideal for any nonprofit fundraiser.

From teachers to bosses, directors, or even pastors, I have experienced just about every type of leadership style from the silent, creative visionary to the micromanaging dictator. While there are times where an exclusive, micro-managing leadership style is effective and appropriate, such as during a military coup or the outbreak of a disease, Our Beards of Hope called for something different. Dave’s inclusive leadership style was about creating an atmosphere where the leader is not the dominator; rather, the leader is the conduit for the possibility of what others could accomplish.

Like most nonprofits, Dave had little control over how successful his fundraiser would be. He could not control how much money would come in, but he could put his time and energy into creating an environment that kept his beard-growers excited to be doing something uncomfortable. The logic is that the more excited his leaders were to be involved, the greater the possibility for success.

His main concern was not, “Who do I have to push (and how) so I can bring in more money?” His focus, like every good leader, was, “How can I awaken them to be the most they can be?”

The beard growth was to happen over five months, so Dave needed to actively focus his crew of beard-growers on the following:

  1. Not shaving
  2. Continuing to get sponsors for their beard growth
  3. Not shaving
  4. Sharing the story behind the growth to recruit additional beard-growers
  5. And not shaving

Keeping Your Leaders Motivated

Dave kept it spicy by creating milestones in our beard growth. Every month his blog held a new attraction. The first month he awarded t-shirts to anyone who had met their goal of getting sponsors. The t-shirt design was donated by Cameron Little from Ephraim Clothing.

Ideas For Appreciating Donors

Over the next couple of months, every grower sent in a picture of their progress, and the photos were posted to the blog. Then the blog visitors voted on who had the most radical headway. The winner got a luxurious beard and mustache comb.

It’s important to note that any time Dave offered an incentive, it was not a large gift, which can turn off your donors. They don’t want their money coming right back to them instead of going toward the cause. A leader or donor can appreciate a small gift within the fundraising structure when it doesn’t take away from the support of the cause but instead serves as a small reminder of a personal triumph.

Every month when we would submit beard photos for Dave to post to the blog, each new posting brought new eyes to the website. The theme for the Month Three pics was “boy band.” I decided to go with “old-school boy band.”

Donor Motivation

Throughout the entire process, as Dave posted pictures and held contests, there was one tactic that kept us moving more than any of the others: our first love.

Motivating Supporters And Donors

Dave kept us actively involved by making us the stars of the movement, but along with the superb silliness of photos of my friends slowly becoming werewolves, Dave would remind us of why we began. He would post updates on the progress of the adoption, photos of Aunna, and his hopes, fears, and prayers for their little girl.

Fireworks and bearded fashion shows can help keep people’s minds on achieving a goal. You can work hard to generate hype over your cause, but you run the risk of losing heart when you don’t take a moment to center your team around that initial shimmering passion.

Strength In Numbers

Dave’s fundraising format, monthly contests, incentives, and even the design of the blog were suggestions that came from outside himself. He hadn’t envisioned them at the outset, so he was presented with a choice. He could stick with his original ideas, which offered predictability and safety. Or he could listen to the voices he had gathered around him, test the ideas to be sure they fit with his overall goal and theme, and then step out and see where those ideas took him.

While sticking to your guns can offer an element of security, it brings solitude, and it limits what you can accomplish during the brainstorming sessions you have on your morning drive. Lifting up the voices of your leaders by letting them occasionally lead you creates an opportunity to bring them into your cause as a fellow groundbreaker, giving them a stake in the movement and opening it up to many possibilities.

It’s worth mentioning that letting a bad idea fly in order to demonstrate faith in someone qualifies as bad leadership just as much as holding to your own original idea only because it is safe. No matter what, leading means exercising wisdom.

Letting Go Of The Reins

Here at Aplos, we ran into a great example of this inclusive leadership style with our CEO, Tim Goetz, when he came up with the idea of Aplos Stories, the category of articles you’re reading now. He wanted to speak about the nonprofit world in a way that could encourage, inspire, and inform.

He had seen a blog done by a software company that he really liked. His next step as a leader could have been to instruct us to steal the formula and create an Aplos version of this blog. He didn’t. He asked us to figure out a way to make it our own. Instead of giving us a pen and an assignment, he gave us a voice.

We all talked over what he wanted to accomplish, and we started asking, “What if?” We wanted something that wasn’t a series of solo posts of facts and lists. What we really craved, and therefore hoped our customers would desire too, was to hear and share inspiring stories.

I love stories. That’s what I want to hear and that’s what I want to offer. Stories have the opportunity to become an ongoing dialogue rather than a speech. Sharing a story isn’t about assembling a list of helpful tips; it’s about sharing a passion.

By listening to the leaders he had picked, Tim was able to arrive at something he didn’t exactly have in mind at the outset. By having a voice, I felt valued and motivated to take ownership. When you create an environment where your leaders can thrive in a way that serves your organization, the potential has no limits.

This is what gave Our Beards of Hope its success: a leader who didn’t give orders. He made room for possibilities so he might make his own leaders greater. They, in turn, were inspired to serve the cause as if it were their own. Their giving was not measured in dollars and hours; it was measured by heart.

You can hear it in Dave’s voice when he speaks about his bearded troupe of growers. You can see it in the way he speaks to his wife, Erin, and the tone he uses with his children. I am not as powerful as we can be.

As a leader serving under Dave, I was excited to have offered my voice, my comfort, and some real estate on my face so one day very soon, Dave and Erin can enjoy an evening at home with all four of their children. Dave will offer guidance, love, and encouragement. His three natural children will do everything they can to help a little girl who can’t help herself. Erin will hold little Aunna on her lap, finally able to do something as simple as brushing her new daughter’s hair.

Brush. Brush. Admire.

Up Next: Part 6

Have you ever dreaded having to remind people of the money they pledged to your cause? We’ll share some simple tips to help you through the process in the final installment of this series.

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