Leadership is a vast and much-studied subject. The next time you are in a library or bookstore, take a minute to peruse the business section. You’ll find that books on leadership far outnumber all other subjects.
But for all its importance, leadership training – both improving leadership skills for those already in positions of authority and grooming front-liners for management and leadership positions – is under-appreciated in our Development industry. 57% of fundraising directors surveyed by my company recently had no training whatsoever before assuming their first management job. Worse still, the majority still hasn’t. Most fundraisers, it appears, learn how to lead by trial and error.
While there is no teacher like real-life experience, learning to manage by making mistakes can have a disastrous impact on those being managed. And, in our industry where there are too few skilled, experienced fundraisers for too many available positions, mediocre or outright bad management is one of the top 3 reasons why fundraisers leave their jobs prematurely.
The problem can be traced back, at least in part, to a lack of respect for the importance of management training, underscored by the meager budgets assigned to this critical function. Among organizations that had any budget for training (about 75% of those surveyed), the majority allocated only 1% to 2% for that purpose, and most of that was for basic fundraising, not management, training.
But those who need the training also contribute to the problem. 30% of fundraisers managing staff said they did not spend the full budget allotted to them for training last year, inadequate as those funds were to begin with. Their number one reason – I was too busy to set aside the time.
That is literally true. Fundraisers in management-level jobs work extraordinary amounts of overtime – equivalent to adding one to two full workdays on top of a 40-hour week – every week. But, expert training can teach managers how to improve their own productivity and that of their staff so that everyone (manager included) can leave at 5:00, have a real life after work, and come back the next morning refreshed and ready to give their all.
Leadership and management are highly specialized skills. Yes, there are a few prodigies out there who come by their extraordinary ability to manage others naturally. Everyone else has to learn how to do it. Fundraisers in management and leadership positions today as well as those aspiring to those pivotal roles, need and deserve the specialized training that is essential to developing leadership skills – even if they have to be dragged out of the office to make sure they get it.