Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Need for Vision

Leaders who seek to inspire philanthropic support must have vision. Major donors, in particular, want to know:

"What does the President or Executive Director of this organization want to accomplish?"

"Does his or her vision respond to a larger societal need? Is it bold but attainable?"

"Can he or she show me where my support can make a measurable difference?"

If compelling answers can be provided to those questions, significant philanthropic support can be secured.

And, yet, many leaders I have worked for or advised have confided, "I don't really know what vision is." Winston Churchill did, at least when he saw it in David LLoyd George, the brilliant Welsh politician who, as Prime Minister, led Great Britain through World War I.

Churchill said Lloyd George had the "seeing eye." He went on to explain: "He had that deep original instinct which peers through the surface of words and things -- the vision which sees dimly but surely the other side of the brick wall or which follows the hunt two fields before the throng. Against this, learning, scholarship, eloquence, social influence, wealth, reputation, an ordered mind, plenty of pluck, counted for nothing."

But that sort of vision is the rarest of gifts. So, if the leader of your organization is not Lloyd George, how can you come up with a workable vision that will help philanthropists understand why your organization needs their support? You can do so by crafting succinct, compelling answers to the following questions:

"What unique or rare assets does your organization possess and how do they relate to something that society needs or wants?"

"How would you (the leader) describe the state of your organization when you inherited it and what you would like it to be when you step down from your post?"

"Who is currently being served by your organization? How would you like them to be better served? Who would you like to serve that you are currently not able to?"

"If you were given a $10 million unrestricted gift, how would you use it to the best benefit of your organization or institution? What if it were a $25 million gift? A $50 million gift? A $100 million gift?"

Listening to how leaders answer this last set of questions can be particularly telling. All too often the answer is a roll-up of small needs designed to placate internal stakeholders, needs without a unifying theme, without clearly defined beneficiaries or time-sensitive goals. It all adds up to a ponderous pile of pasty pudding that will have little appeal to anyone other than your purely tribal or blindly loyal supporters.

If you go to the effort of crafting thoughtful answers to these questions, can I guarantee that you will secure larger gifts? No, but if you don't go to the trouble, I can promise that you will all but eliminate your chances of securing more significant support.

If you're wondering if the singular vision of a leader is more important than a comprehensive strategic plan for the institution, or how one relates to the other, stay tuned. I'll cover that in my next post.

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