Courage to Lead

Posted by: Shannon Schweigert
Category: Education, Faith, Healthcare, Uncategorized

Among the many attributes we consider in assessing the potential success of a proposed capital campaign and its underlying project, leadership, or more concisely the courage to lead, is primary. This critical attribute among leadership must be exhibited throughout all levels of capital campaign management and execution: board members, executives, and volunteer team. The courage to lead is the most important aspect determining success or failure. It takes a distinguished confidence and courage to stand out among our peers and lead transformational projects from vision, to funding, and eventually into reality.


Knowing the critical role courage plays, what generally holds leadership back from exhibiting the necessary courage to lead? In our experience at PACE and from what we’ve experienced in a lifetime in the giving game, fellow PACE Principal Michael Overby and I have identified three most common fears inhibiting courage to lead: change, relationship risk, and failure.


The best philanthropy is not just about giving money but giving leadership. The best philanthropists bring the gifts that made them successful-the drive, the determination, the refusal to accept that something can’t be done if it needs to be into their philanthropy.  – Tony Blair

Change – Fear of change is a very common human defense. We are creatures of habit and any attempt to interrupt our comfort with “the way things are and have always been” is naturally frightening. This fear is most often exhibited in the early stages of proposed projects and most prominently within governing boards. Board leadership has accepted the burden and responsibility for the execution of the organization’s mission. The clients and beneficiaries of the organization have entrusted the board with this obligation. It is natural that board members consider their responsibility to the beneficiaries when undertaking any discussion of change.


Maintaining Service During Times of Transformational Transition – How do we continue to provide the level of service expected of us while working to transform operations through a construction project or upgrade in services? Transitioning from current to new through a transformational project is a daunting task. Your clients and more specifically, your financial supporters (donors) will not accept a decrease in expected service under the guise of “making changes to make us better.”

  1. Take the time to work with professionals or within your management team to map out plans to continue service during construction transition times. A little planning will assure staff and clients that all has been done to ensure a smooth service transition.
  1. Once approved, make your service transition plans accessible to clients and the public through your website, brochures, and any other medium that public may access. This transparency will give your clients and supporters confidence in the process.
  1. Minimize risk to funding current operations by making your Capital Campaign inclusive: include your Annual Fund goals. A Capital Campaign should have opportunities from donors of all capacity. Including your Annual Fund gives donors with smaller capacity the opportunity to participate in the Campaign.

And you will never meet personally, face-to-face with more supporters than during a Capital Campaign. This access gives you an opportunity maintain or even raise the expectations for your Annual Fund, assuring supporters that current operations will not take a hit during the Campaign time frame while you are pursuing Capital Campaign funding.


Relationship Risk – The fear of interrupting a relationship or offending a prospect through a request for financial support is very real among volunteer cultivation team members. We all have peer circles that we value. These may include friends, relatives, or business associates for whom a financial support request may cause discomfort to the relationship. PACE Principal Michael Overby is noted for pointing out, “There is nothing more personal to us than money. Jesus talks about money several times in the Bible. If it is important enough for Jesus to discuss money, it’s certainly important.”

Overcoming relationship risk is difficult, but not impossible. We acknowledge this risk as real and have developed PACE-led campaigns with processes that minimize its impact.

Fundraising Success in a World Fraught with Relationship Risk – Winning a Capital Campaign often comes down to “having the right people call upon the right people.” Selection of the right people is about recognizing who is best to motivate the prospect to act in support of our cause and make a pace-setting contribution. So, how do we do this in the “real world” where relationship risk exists?

  1. Begin by selecting/constructing your Volunteer Campaign Team with members from a variety of peer circles within the community. This allows for easy transfer of prospects among influential members of your team. Remember demographics like age, gender, business association, among others when considering team make-up.
  1. PACE-led campaigns forgo cultivation “assignments” in favor of prospect “drafts” by Campaign Team Members. Nobody wants to be “assigned” a task, particularly one that may include requesting financial support where relationship risk exists. Rather, we employ a voluntary choice to draft a prospect for cultivation. It is a better start to the relationship between prospect and Volunteer Team Member responsible for cultivating a commitment to the Campaign.
  1. Keep open the opportunity to transfer responsibility for specific prospects among Volunteer Team Members as cultivation progresses. Adjusting the “who” for cultivating specific prospects often becomes necessary mid-campaign. Don’t be afraid to have the transfer discussion with a volunteer who is unable to make contact/progress with a prospect. Capital Campaigns are a team game.


Failure – Perhaps the leading factor prohibiting courage to lead a transformational project is the fear of failure. Our experience is that this fear most often manifests within executive leadership teams. It’s difficult to overcome since we must first try before we ultimately learn if we will be successful. And if we fail, how will it affect our organization and ultimately our professional reputation?

When considering the risk of failure on any project, I am reminded of an often-aired commercial for the History Channel’s series on the Founding Fathers. In it, a history expert reminds us, “The Founding Fathers didn’t know that they were going to win the war…” And in this case, failure meant certain death. The stakes are hopefully not that dire in any prospective projects we encounter, but nonetheless the risk of failure must be addressed. Here’s a few things to consider in minimizing your fear of failure.

A Good Alpha Results in a Good Omega – The proper amount of time, expertise, and public input can never be overlooked in planning for your project to succeed. What you do correctly early goes a long way towards ultimately succeeding in funding and implementing your vision.

  1. Internal planning among board members and executives should include the professional expertise of architects, engineers, and fundraisers where appropriate. These professionals have worked on many successful projects and will assist in advising on the steps you need to take to plan for success.
  1. Once your draft plan has been approved by internal governing authorities, it can now be presented publicly for vetting by external constituencies: clients, community, prospective donors. An early, proper vetting period can and may include a funding feasibility and/or planning study to determine public sentiment. Much can be learned by measuring the community’s tolerance for the change you envision. Conducted early, adaptations can be made based upon the public’s response. Finally, a determination of the most attractive pieces of your plan assist in determining the fundability of your project.
  1. In any assessment of your plans and vision, it is important to understand the difference between “critique and criticism.” The public’s “critique” of your plans is a valuable planning tool. It is objective and assists in determining their collective interests in your organization and in seeing its future success. Do not be discouraged by public critiques and its positive intent. “Criticism,” however, is easily identified, is often personal, and does little to move your organization forward. It is inevitable in most communities. We, along with other professionals, can help you sort through and identify the difference and use the positive critiques to assist in positioning your project for success.

Addressing and proactively planning for change, relationship risk, and fear of failure will ultimately prepare you for a winning campaign. Early planning should include a listening campaign that includes all constituencies, both internal and external, to gauge what is attractive about your project and what needs to be more clearly defined. Follow the steps we’ve outlined and empower yourself with Courage to Lead. Best wishes on a successful project and funding campaign.

For any questions or comments, visit or email

Shannon Schweigert, Principal, PACE Fundraising