Leading the Way (Part 1)

A great leader

By: Sally Bryant DeChenne, Senior Vice President, BRYANT Group

Principle 3 of The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising® is Leadership Leads™, which lays out the often misunderstood role of the Board in a nonprofit organization.  Internal organizational managers and CEOs are also an important part of leadership.  The quality of internal leadership can make or break a nonprofit organization.

Many times the best way to get promoted to nonprofit management is to first succeed at something else, such as raising major gifts.  At BRYANT GROUP, we find the majority of Vice Presidents in the fundraising arena as well as many nonprofit CEOs came up through the fundraising ranks.

Although fundraising experience is important in a fundraising manager and nearly-always helpful to a nonprofit CEO, it certainly doesn’t guarantee success in leadership.   As Larry outlines in the Leadership Leads™ chapter, “…companies have made the mistake of promoting their most creative talent into line management positions as a reward.  The result is often a frustrated individual, robbed of what he or she does best….”  The same is true for nonprofits.

So how does a successful major gift officer become a great leader?

This is part one of the few things I have learned over the past 30 years working in, and consulting with, organizations.

A great leader continually seeks out learning opportunities on leadership. Always. The saying, “School is never out for the pro” should be part of a leader’s mantra.   She reads books on leadership. She participates in conferences and online education.  And each time she wants to take her leadership to the next level fast, she engages a coach or mentor.

A great leader is a great coach of his staff and volunteers. Truly effective coaches do two things: believe in people and ask the right questions. Being an effective coach of others does not come naturally to most people. Successful coaches respect those they are coaching, knowing they can figure out their own answers. Telling people what to do or how to do it has very little place in great leadership.

A great leader understands his strengths and his weaknesses—and how they are related. A major strength is usually a major stumbling block as well—two sides of the same coin. A person with an intense work ethic can get a lot done (strength) and can also burn himself out (weakness). An analytic leader weighs a variety of options to make optimal decisions (strength), but can also get stuck in “paralysis by analysis” (weakness). Recognizing how to stay on the “strengths” side of the coin is imperative.

Stay tuned for part two of this article, when I will go over a few more characteristics of a great leader.


A great leader Sally Bryant DeChenne is the Senior Vice President of BRYANT GROUP, a recruiting and training firm with a mission of building powerful teams. Sally is also the Principal of the firm’s Talent Enrichment and Talent Retention programs focusing on mentoring and training leaders.

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