Part of our work and counsel with our clients is to conduct feasibility studies. We have the opportunity to visit with 25-30 top community leaders and philanthropists, asking them about the image of the non-profit, the proposed plans and who might help raise money and/or be donors of the vision.
Recently I was conducting an interview with a wonderful prospect who was both wealthy and wise. We outlined our plans and then asked him to comment regarding our ability to get the campaign completed successfully. He shared the pieces of the project that were most interesting to him and how he might support the project.
As we were walking out, I asked if, after all of these years, he had any advice to leaders who were just learning the ropes of capital fundraising. He smiled and said “I always bet on the jockey.” He went onto explain that he invests in leaders. He seeks out non-profit leaders who can lead and invests in those organizations. He assesses the volunteers who are involved and if they are leaders he invests in them. He always bets on the jockey.
I couldn’t agree more. For years I’ve said leadership is everything! What should you look for in a jockey?
- A clear vision of where they want to go. A jockey sees the whole course, anticipates obstacles and plans the surest route to the finish line.
- Ability to work with the resources they have. Not every horse has the same strength or speed, but a good jockey inspires the best performance out of the horse. Same goes for the best leaders.
- Keeps an eye on the competition, but runs his own race. A good jockey knows when to follow the crowd and when to go their own way. A good leader balances those two poles as well.
- Knows when to rein it in and when to let go. Bursting out of the gate at full speed isn’t the best strategy for a horse race, and speed-dating isn’t a good strategy for fundraising. There’s a time to push and a time to hang back and find the best position. Successful jockeys – and leaders – know when to use each strategy.
- Doesn’t settle. While a jockey can do a lot, if the horse simply isn’t sound or able to compete, there is no point in running the race. A strong leader knows not to settle until the right leadership team has been gathered.
When assessing staff and volunteers you are recruiting to your organization or campaign — remember wise investors bet on the jockey!