Today it’s my honor to introduce you to John Fulwider. I’m a guy who loves helping people find their strengths and talents. John is the first person I’ve met who teaches nonprofit boards how to use the Gallup StrengthsFinder to find their strengths. He’s a sought-after speaker, especially on nonprofit board and staff development and the author of two books: The Nonprofit Book of Awesome: 25 Tips for Achieving Greater Mission Impact and Personal Fulfillment, and the forthcoming Leadership Pairs for Mission Impact: Effective Nonprofit Board President-Chief Executive Partnerships,. You can follow him on Twitter @johnmfulwider.
Boards can lead from strengths to fundraise more effectively
by John M. Fulwider, Ph.D., business and career coach
Nonprofit boards can fundraise and govern more effectively when they lead from their strengths.
Forming strengths-based leadership teams lets members operate from their natural talents, instead of pushing against their weaknesses. The result: More mission impact for the organization, and more personal fulfillment for the members.
In this post, I’ll show you how to:
- Understand strengths psychology—the idea that you and your mission are better off when you play to your strengths, instead of try to “fix” your weaknesses.
- Help board members understand how their Gallup StrengthsFinder strengths apply to ensuring abundant resources for your organization through fundraising.
- Write a quick action plan to help your board lead from its strengths.
Understanding strengths psychology
The theory here is Donald Clifton’s strengths psychology—that people are “able to gain far more when they expend effort to build on their greatest talents than when they spend a comparable amount of effort to remediate their weaknesses.” The application is Gallup’s well-known StrengthsFinder assessments, which have helped millions of people identify and build their own strengths, plus work better in teams because they understand other people’s strengths.
Think of strengths as the path of least resistance between you and the results you want to achieve—both for individuals and for leadership teams, which is what boards are. In the team context, no one member is going to have all the qualities a board needs to fulfill its collective responsibilities and make big and lasting mission impact. As Tom Rath and Barry Conchie succinctly put it in their book Strengths-Based Leadership, “Although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be.”
Quickly identifying your strengths (before taking StrengthsFinder)
This isn’t an official definition, but it’s a helpful one. Strengths are your natural talents. They are things you can do well with less effort than things at which you are less strong. They are themes that define you. If you were to fill in the blanks in these sentences…
- I’ve always had a knack for ________
- People have always said I”m good at ________
- I find that ________ comes naturally for me
…those would be your strengths. Go ahead and fill in those blanks. (Don’t write on your screen, please.)
Intrigued? You should be! Now go take StrengthsFinder from Gallup and learn your Top 5 strengths. You’ll invest about 10 bucks and 35 minutes of your time. (I’m in no way associated with Gallup, I’m just a big fan of their products and what they’ve done for me and my clients.)
How StrengthsFinder strengths apply to fundraising
In a workshop I’ve put together called Strengths-Based Board Leadership, I provide some suggested matches for strengths and fundraising responsibilities. These suggestions are intended to inspire your own thinking about how you can form strong leadership teams using your colleagues’ mix of strengths.
- Achiever: Works hard at personal efforts to generate financial resources.
- Activator: Gets a fundraising initiative moving quickly from plan to action.
- Adaptability: Balances the analytical and cautious to try new things.
- Analytical: Analyzes the highest-ROI revenue generation measures.
- Consistency: Adheres to the organization's business plan for sustainability.
- Discipline: Doesn't succumb to mission creep to generate revenue.
- Focus: Keeps pursuing revenue-generation plan when the going gets tough.
- Input: Gathers new funding ideas.
How StrengthsFinder strengths apply to getting the good word out
But what if my board’s fearful of fundraising? Well, Marc Pitman can help you learn to, you know, Ask Without Fear (ba dum dum CHING!), but strengths-based leadership can as well. An often-overlooked element of ensuring abundant resources is enhancing the organization’s public standing. The public’s high regard for your organization is itself a resource you can transform into dollars. To learn more, head over to johnfulwider.com to read my followup article, “Boards can lead from strengths to raise a nonprofit's public standing.”
Take action to lead from strengths
What will you do to lead from your strengths? Answer these questions (again, donit write on your screen!) to build a quick action plan with which you can implement what you’ve learned.
- Your Envisioned Future: When you’ve successfully built strengths-based leadership teams on your board, what will these people and things look like? How will they have changed?
- The people you serve
- Your board
- Your community
- Your Purpose Statement: Why do you want to achieve this future?
- Your Current Reality: What’s your current reality? What are the gaps between today and your envisioned future?
- Specific Action Commitments: What will you commit to doing to create your envisioned future?
Thanks so much for sharing this Marc. It’s a great tool, and I’ve used it with my staffs in the past. It makes so much practical sense to lead from strength, rather than to continually beat ourselves up trying to perfect our areas of weakness. We’d all be so much better off if we simply appreciated folks for the strengths they bring to the table; then try to find others to fill in where we’re needing some additional talents.
It’s also really useful to both know your own strengths, and to appreciate that not everyone you work with is exactly like you. That’s okay. Bringing folks together with different approaches to brainstorming, problem-solving, analyzing and implementing creates a much stronger approach to all that we do. After doing these exercises with my staff, I didn’t stress so much when I got stuck on something. I’d look for the couple of folks who had skills I didn’t possess, and bring them into the conversation.
Thanks, Claire. It’s great to realize we don’t have to “be it all” — and it makes our organizations more stable when we learn to work with others’ strengths!
What a great guest post! When Now Discover Your Strengths was published in 2001 we had the entire development office staff go through the assessment. Graphing the teams strengths created an incredible sense of appreciation for each other’s gifts.This appreciation went a long way towards creating a powerful workplace dynamic. This is important stuff to know when trying to create a high impact fundraising effort. Thanks for the great post!
Thanks, Jay. I loved that book. What a great tool for a staff to use!