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Sponsored Content: Leading with Purpose – The Power of Authenticity

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In today’s fast-paced and competitive business landscape, effective leadership has become critical for organizational success. As a seasoned professional who has worked in the nonprofit industry for the past 15 years, both as a frontline fundraiser and as a consultant, I have had the unique opportunity to work with dozens of leaders—some highly effective and others quite ineffective. While there are various leadership styles, the single most effective style of motivating teams and influencing culture is authentic leadership. At its core, authentic leadership is far more focused on a leader’s innate and internal qualities and character than on the tactical process of management. Authentic leaders stay true to their values, beliefs, and principles while fostering an atmosphere of trust, open communication, and mutual respect where employees feel valued, empowered, and motivated.

As a military spouse, much of my personal and professional philanthropy work has been within the Department of Defense, affording me the opportunity to work closely alongside senior military leaders. Additionally, as a trainer with Fundraising Academy at National University, I have the pleasure of working closely with organizations and teams across the country teaching the fundamentals of effective fundraising. These are my observations of the most effective qualities and behaviors of authentic leaders.

1. Self-awareness as the Foundation

Authentic leadership begins with self-awareness. Leaders must deeply understand their values, strengths, and weaknesses. By recognizing their own limitations and being open about their imperfections, authentic leaders create a sense of relatability and humility among their team members. This self-awareness allows them to lead with genuine intention, earning the trust and respect of their employees. Remember, self-awareness is an ongoing process, and it takes time and effort to develop. To gain self-awareness, leaders should engage in regular introspection—reflecting on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Ask for honest feedback from colleagues and friends, and set aside intentional time to reflect on your actions, decisions, and reactions.

2.     Emphasize Purpose and Shared Values

A critical aspect of authentic leadership is anchoring decisions and actions on shared purpose and core values. Leaders who communicate a clear and compelling vision that resonates with their team inspire a sense of belonging and commitment. When employees can align their personal values with the organization’s mission, they are more likely to be engaged and invested in achieving collective goals. This is particularly important within the nonprofit industry where shared values serve as a powerful driving force behind the pursuit of common goals and social impact. Nonprofit organizations are often formed with a specific mission to address social, environmental, or humanitarian challenges, and shared values act as the glue that unites the diverse individuals and stakeholders involved.

3. Active Listening and Empathy

Listening actively and empathetically is a cornerstone of authentic leadership. Leaders demonstrate that they value their employees’ input by truly hearing their perspectives, concerns, and ideas. Moreover, practicing empathy helps leaders understand the emotions and experiences of their team members, allowing them to address challenges with compassion and support.

Authentic leaders often set an example by actively practicing and demonstrating these qualities in their own interactions. They organize workshops and training sessions that focus on communication skills, emphasizing the importance of attentive listening and understanding others’ perspectives. They implement regular team-building activities and exercises that require open and honest communication, which help build empathy and strengthen relationships among team members. They create a safe and judgment-free environment where individuals feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions.

4. Lead by Example

Authentic leaders lead by example, acting in alignment with the ethics and values they promote. They are confident in and transparent about their decisions, admit mistakes, and take responsibility for their actions. When employees witness their leaders’ integrity, it fosters an environment where honesty and accountability are encouraged throughout the organization.

As professionals, we spend a great deal of time in the workplace. Fostering an ethical culture at work as a leader by modeling your organization’s values is crucial. At Fundraising Academy, I teach my students and cohorts to focus on key questions that need consistent answers within an organization to establish clear ethical boundaries and expectations, such as:

  1. Are all employees familiar with the organization’s ethical guidelines?
  2. Do employees feel comfortable reporting ethical violations without retaliation?
  3. How are those concerns addressed—formally, informally, or not at all?

5. Empower and Delegate

Authentic leaders trust their team members and empower them to make decisions and take ownership of their work. By delegating responsibilities, leaders demonstrate that they have confidence in their employees’ abilities, which, in turn, boosts their morale and commitment. Empowering the workforce also fosters creativity, as employees feel encouraged to explore new ideas without fear of failure.

We cannot overlook the importance of timely decision-making and delegation within small teams. Empowering individuals with responsibilities and authority not only fosters a sense of ownership and pride in their work but also inspires a culture of initiative and innovation. When your organization is “small but mighty,” understanding where to invest your time and resources as a leader is critical.

6. Foster a Learning Culture

Authentic leaders prioritize the development of their employees. They invest in training, mentorship, and continuous learning opportunities, demonstrating their commitment to the growth and success of their team. A learning culture encourages a spirit of collaboration and self-improvement, nurturing a high-performing and engaged workforce.

This is particularly important in the nonprofit fundraising sector. Professional development is of utmost importance for fundraisers, as it empowers them with the necessary knowledge, skills, and resources to excel in their crucial roles within the nonprofit sector. As the landscape of fundraising continues to evolve, staying updated on the latest trends, techniques, and best practices is essential for achieving sustainable growth and success.

Cultivating an authentic leadership style is not a one-time endeavor; it is a continuous journey of self-discovery and growth. When employees see their leaders consistently embodying these authentic qualities, they are more likely to reciprocate with loyalty, dedication, and a willingness to contribute to the organization’s success. Ultimately, an authentic leader lays the foundation for a harmonious, innovative, and high-performing workplace, enhancing the organization’s overall performance and long-term sustainability. 

Meredith Terrian Meredith Terrian has worked exclusively in the nonprofit industry for the past 13 years in both senior fundraising roles and as a consultant. Terrian is a trainer at National University in the Fundraising Academy and serves as a senior consultant with the Gail Perry Group advising capital campaign strategy. She is also the founder and principal consultant of The Allied Group, a full-service fundraising consulting practice. She has an extensive background in nonprofit development and management and specializes in major gifts fundraising, campaign planning, and strategic planning for nonprofit organizations. Terrian is passionate about data analytics and data-driven fundraising. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida State University and a graduate certificate in Education from the University of West Florida. She has also been invited to sit for the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) exam. Terrian has been recognized as a thought leader in the nonprofit industry, having been invited to speak at the AFP ICON conference, AFP Planet Philanthropy, Raise National Fundraising Conference, and the Best NC Excellence in Innovation Lab. Her content has been promoted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, The Nonprofit Learning Lab, and OneCause. She lives in Tampa, Florida, with her husband and three children.

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