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Followership in Charities

publication date: Sep 6, 2018
 | 
author/source: Rob Peacock

"Effective leadership" is meaningless unless it inspires effective followership.

Western societies value leadership, yet if the charitable sector is to succeed at what it is we are employed to achieve, we need to recognize the importance of followership.

Followership—the willingness and ability to embrace a program with enthusiasm, to be part of a team, to take direction well and to deliver what is expected and needed—is essential to an organization’s success.

Weak followership and weak leadership have the same consequences for any organization: confusion, poor performance and an unhappy contingent of employees and volunteers. These negative consequences are compounded in a sector where charities face extremely limited resources and there are a few opportunities for organizations to buy their way out of challenges, change over their employee/volunteer networks, or change strategy mid-stream.

One hears about colleagues who express a whole range of opinions about the personal qualities they need to draw on to work effectively within the Canadian charitable sector, including good judgment, ethics, competence, honesty, and even courage.

All these qualities are vital to leaders and followers alike. Without them, staff and volunteers may be distracted from the goals of the organization and give less than their best, resulting in less efficiency, lower donor satisfaction, or just plain poor performance, no matter how it's measured.

But the follower also owes the leader his or her own honest assessment of what the leader is trying to achieve and how, especially when the follower feels the leader’s agenda is flawed, and must be encouraged to do so. Of course, such forthrightness may be difficult, since bad leaders, almost by definition, won't welcome feedback, and so followers may decide that they have to tread carefully or not bother to speak out at all.

Some may be convinced that charities are generally dysfunctional, no matter which way you look at it. Others will find it challenging to work with the very people that the charity exists to serve.

So what makes for good followership? A follower cannot properly follow unless he or she is competent at the task at hand, and hard work is a core value, as is diligence, motivation, and commitment to the cause itself.

To stop constant turnover, the charitable sector in Canada must therefore make every effort to invest in the professionalism of its people. From onboarding to proper professional training for charitable growth and success – charities need to change the dynamic of how employees are thought of. Developing strong morale amongst teams takes work and is a worthwhile collective effort.

Similarly, followers must be willing to take direction as asked, but they must be confident that in the process they are able to maintain their obligation to the overall goals of the charity itself.

Peacock’s Point - Rob Peacock, MA, is a Certified Fund Raising Executive with 30 years of fundraising experience and is CEO of Peacock Philanthropic and a Senior Associate with Charity Careers Canada. Rob is a Past Chair of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in Canada and is a faculty member for the Masters in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Carleton University.



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