How To Grow Your Leaders

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’ve gotta brush it a little (I prefer a brush to an official beard comb) then admire it. And, I find frequent pep talks help it to fall in line.




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 to 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?


Building Leaders for your Cause

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

While I could offer a checklist of leadership styles and which 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; to underscore 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 micro-managing dictator. While there are times where an exclusive, micro-managing leadership style is effective and appropriate, like 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, but rather 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 then 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 that 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 lastly… 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 on getting sponsors. The t-shirt design was donated by Cameron Little from Ephraim Clothing.


Over the next couple of months, every grower sent in a picture of their progress and they 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 to 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 serves as a small reminder of a personal triumph.

Each 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.”


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.


Dave kept us actively involved by making us the stars of the movement, but in and amongst 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, as well as his hopes, fears and prayers for their little girl.

Fireworks and bearded fashion shows can keep our minds on achieving a goal. We can work hard to generate hype over our cause but we run the risk of losing heart when we don’t take a moment to center our 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 and this presented him with a choice: stick with your original ideas, which offer predictability and safety, or listen to the voices you have gathered around you, test them to be sure they fit with your overall goal and theme, then step out and see where they take you. While sticking to your guns can offer an element of security, it also brings solitude and limits what you can accomplish to 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 possibility.

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 section of our website 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 playing “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 inspiring stories about what is going on in the nonprofit world; a long thread spanning many posts rather than sequential drops in the bucket.

As you can tell from the style of this series: I love stories. That’s what I want to hear and that’s what I want to offer. When someone else suggested we call it Aplos Stories we got more than a name; we got a north star to follow. Stories as opposed to blog posts 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 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 it on as if it were my own.

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 possibility so that 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 that one day very soon, Dave and Erin can enjoy an evening at home with all four of their children; Dave offering guidance, love and encouragement. Three children doing everything they can to help a little girl who can’t help herself. And Erin holding little Aunna on her lap, finally able to do something as simple as brushing her new daughter’s hair.




Joshua is bit of a Swiss army knife around Aplos. More like one of those generic, off-brand multitools that really only has two or three tools that are actually of use, but darn if they're not the best at what they do. So when he's not writing code for the company website or giving a copyedit to the eblasts, he's home working on his novel, spending time with his wife and daughters, or out cycling up by the Millerton Lake. (What's that? My bio isn't long enough? Ok, I got this...) He also likes cheese, prefers Pixel to iPhone, hates click-bate article titles, is a strong believer in the Oxford Comma, thinks Rogue One was better than The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi was better than both. (Boom, nailed it.)

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