For the past two years, I’ve coached Alison Kear on a large fundraising campaign she worked on at Covenant House Alaska.
As I post this, I am on my way to Anchorage to celebrate their success. The campaign has raised more than $24,000,000 and the new building for homeless teens is now open.
I’m excited to share with you three lessons about leadership I’ve learned from Alison during my work with her on this remarkable project.
3 Lessons on Leadership
Lesson 1: A strong leader sees “No” as merely a starting point for a conversation.
When someone tells Alison that something is impossible or unlikely, she lights up. You can almost hear her inner voice saying, “Not possible? Just you wait and see…”
I learned this about Alison right off the bat. She knew of my book on Capital Campaign fundraising and decided that she wanted to work with me. I had no interest in working for an organization in Alaska and told her that point blank.
What followed were emails about why she knew I’d enjoy working with her and Covenant House Alaska.
She sent photos of her dog, Lucy, (a curly haired, bouncy Labradoodle), that Alison was sure I’d adore.
She even proposed that she’d come to New York to learn from me if I wasn’t willing to come to Alaska.
How could I resist?
Alison appealed to my ego. She tickled my funny bone. And she suggested ways we might work together that would make it practical for me.
If she could woo her donors the same way, I was confident her campaign would succeed!
And indeed, she brought all of her charm and persistence and energy to bear on every significant campaign donor. Of course, they could no more resist her than I could.
Lesson 2: A strong leader uses challenges as opportunities to reach out to others for advice and help.
Again and again, I watched Alison wrestle with problems.
No matter how well-run, large fundraising campaigns and complex building projects encounter a host of problems — some big and some small.
Alison solves many problems on her own by making simple decisions. But she’s also comfortable reaching out to others.
She’d email board members or experts or community members for advice. Or she’d call an ad hoc meeting to discuss her options. Or she’d pick up the phone and ask someone for their thoughts.
With her highly collaborative leadership style, Alison creates allies and establishes trust.
She understands that strong leaders don’t have to know all of the answers. They need the courage to admit what they don’t know and to reach out to the people around them to help figure it out.
Lesson 3: A strong leader moves seamlessly between the big picture and the details.
Alison notices details. She stores them away in her mind and retrieves them later when they are helpful.
Often I would hear her talk about the things she knew her donors liked. And then she’d shape a request to fit that donor’s specific style and desires. (Yes, Alison is a master of the Steak Dinner approach to fundraising.)
She’s also good at seeing the big picture — at helicoptering up 30,000 feet to see more generally what’s working and what’s not.
But what really sets Alison apart is her ability to work at both levels. To be working on the big plan to make sure it all makes sense one minute and to write a very personal note to a donor the next.
For Alison, no action is either above or beneath her. And while she delegates well, she’s still willing to dive into the details even as she’s responsible for the big picture.
Allison Kear is a Model Leader
We can all learn a lot from Allison about what it takes to be a remarkable leader.
Congratulations, Alison and Covenant House Alaska on your very successful fundraising campaign and the new “house” you’ve built for the homeless young people of Alaska.
I’ve learned so much from working with you. Probably more than you’ve learned from me.