Leadership Lessons

Dear Kim:

I am the president of a very small environmental club at my community college. We have been discussing ideas to raise money. The problem is that my club members keep coming up with ideas that have nothing to do with environmental issues. They shoot down any ideas I have which are relevant. I don’t know how to get them to work towards our actual goal or how to come up with a fundraiser that will get our student body involved. Please help. I’m very new to the leadership thing and I can’t think of any other ideas.  Thanks for your time.

Signed,

Struggling Activist

Dear Struggling:

Welcome to leadership!  You apparently thought you would lead your merry band of followers when they elected you president.  But, in fact, a leader must be a consensus builder, and an organizer. A leader should not be confused with a boss.  Some bosses are leaders, to be sure, but many good leaders are not bosses and many bosses are not good leaders.

To be a good leader means getting everyone you are leading to feel that their opinion is important and their ideas are useful.  You describe the situation as if it were you, who has sensible ideas, up against all the rest of the dingbat club members who have bad ideas.  Maybe this is true, but probably not.  (After all they did elect you, so clearly they 1) like you, and 2) are not dingbats)

Before your next meeting, I would talk to some members privately.  Pick ones you like and trust and ask them to help you be a good president.  Listen closely to their feedback.  Reassure them that you want fundraising ideas that everyone is excited about, but you feel they should be related to environmental concerns.  I doubt your colleagues will disagree.  Then ask them to help you reintroduce the topic at the next meeting.

At that meeting, start with a discussion of the goals of the club.  Make sure everyone gets to speak, and, if possible, write down their ideas on a white board or flip chart.  Then ask the group what fundraising strategy might promote the goals of the club and be one that everyone could participate in?  Don’t offer your own ideas—just see what they say and guide the process.  I think that the group will come up with some ideas that will be workable.  They are far more likely to work on something they thought of on their own than something you told them to do, and in the end, that is the most important element of being an effective club.
Thanks for writing.  The fact that you were willing to acknowledge your situation says to me that you are going to be a very good leader.

For help in finding easy-to-implement fundraising ideas, check out “The Accidental Fundraiser” by Stephanie Roth and Mimi Ho, available from Jossey- Bass Publishers or in bookstores and libraries.

–Kim Klein