Training ground for leaders

Bill Huddleston

Did you learn to swim by reading a book?

The answer of course is no, even if you did read about the different strokes, breathing methods and types of kicks.  Sooner or later, you actually had to get into the water.

In the realm of leadership development, the same principle applies.  To actually develop your leadership skills, you have to lead people.

Whether you are an emerging leader eager to develop your own skills, or you’re responsible for your nonprofit’s leadership development program, there is a unique place to practice these skills – workplace giving campaigns.

While many think of workplace giving campaigns only in terms of fundraising, they actually provide many other benefits to participating nonprofits.

As part of a leadership development program, nonprofits can use these campaigns to provide low-risk, high-value opportunities to their staff in a number of areas, including team building, public speaking and project management.

In workplace giving campaigns there are campaign events known as “charity fairs,” in which nonprofits come to the sponsoring organization’s offices, provide information and answer the questions of potential donors.

Charity fairs are one of the best leadership development opportunities that exist in the non-profit world.   The skills that can be developed and practiced include:

* Public speaking skills – You can practice your elevator speech dozens of times.

* Team Building – The nonprofit leader can get practical experience in leading a team, whether of paid staff or volunteers.

* Listening Skills – The nonprofit team will have the opportunity to listen to people in their community to better understand what they are saying and what’s most important to them.

The paradox of workplace giving programs is that precisely because they are not a high-risk or high-cost program, they can be an ideal practice field for leadership development.  No one is going to blow a major gift solicitation at a charity fair, but future leaders can gain experience in reading people and in learning how to lead a team.

Bill Huddleston is principal of Huddleston Consulting Group in Fairfax, Va. He previously served as loaned executive for the Combined Federal Campaign, the world’s largest workplace giving campaign. Bill can be reached at or 703.560.1825.

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