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Most of you know John Maxwell, one of the foremost leadership gurus in the world. He has written over 70 books on leadership and travels worldwide speaking to Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams and government leaders. One of John’s most widely known maxims is that everything rises and falls on leadership. I have found this statement to prove universally true, including in the realm of grant winning.

I have been privileged to be in private meetings and calls with John as part of the downloadinternational John Maxwell Team. On one particular call with John I asked him what advice he would share with nonprofit leaders. His first response was that people haven’t truly led until they have led a volunteer organization. That should come as no surprise to those of you tasked with leading nonprofits! His second response related to the importance of board leadership, which I will share a bit further down in this blog.

In my grant writing workshops I often compare grant funders to for-profit business investors. While grant funders are not looking to obtain financial ROI like for-profit investors, they are seeking to obtain the best Social ROI possible with their philanthropic gifts. Similarly, just as for-profit investors analyze the leadership qualifications of CEOs and other leaders within companies in which they may invest; grant funders consider the leadership of nonprofits in which they are seeking to grant funds.

Of course, any wise investor wants to know that those leading these organizations have strong professional and leadership qualifications that include the ability to use their money wisely, a strong vision for the future and the ability to grow and sustain the organization. In the grant world, if the funder does not believe the organization’s leadership meets those qualifications, the organization is highly unlikely to win the grant.

As you evaluate yourself and your organization in the area of leadership excellence, I recommend that you contemplate the following three leadership keys that will impact your ability to win grants.

  1. Is your CEO/ED a person of influence in your field and/or community?
    Another of John Maxwell’s wise statements is that leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less. Your leader must possess the ability to influence the staff, board members, funders and community members for the good of the organization. In order to adequately influence these stakeholders the leader must be respected as a person of integrity and expertise. Their expertise must extend past your field of work, such as helping senior citizens, to also include expertise in nonprofit leadership.
  2. Does your organization have a written plan or policy to develop leadership?
    If the success of your nonprofit rises and falls on leadership, you should highly value developing and training leaders. Offering leadership development opportunities is central to your success. Over 90% of Fortune 500 companies provide professional coaches for their leaders because they see the excellent results in productivity and returns. Consider how you might provide professional training and coaching opportunities for your CEO/ED and other senior level staff.
  3. Does your board provide strong leadership?
    Now for the second piece of advice John Maxwell shared with me during that phone call in relationship to strong boards. He said he recommends all nonprofit leaders surround themselves wit a strong and active board that personally financially contributes to the organization. He gave an example of how he was always very direct with board members to be sure they knew all he would expect of them, including financial support, as board members of his nonprofits. Highly impactful nonprofit boards are made up of influential leaders who use their influence to promote the organization in the community and to help raise money for the organization. They lead the way financially by personally contributing to the organization. (Many grant funders now expect that 100% of board members are personally contributing to the organization.) They bring their skill sets and expertise to board decisions. They attend the organization’s events and influence others to attend also. Finally, the board as a whole evaluates their performance annually.

As you are moving forward with your grant seeking strategy be sure to consider the role strong leadership as described above contributes to your ability to win. Addressing these issues could be the missing piece to securing your next grant. If you are looking to assess the quality of your leadership, offer leadership training, or provide leadership coaching to your team be sure to contact us for a free consultation.

Question: What tools/systems do you use to improve the leadership of your CEO, staff and board?