One of my hobbies related to my love of ideas is to study the origins of very ordinary and everyday words and expressions. Recently, I was thinking about a dimension of leadership that is a sine qua non – that is essential — for campaign success. I was thinking about the word “ownership.” The success of every major gift effort and every campaign is ultimately traceable to one person or set of persons — those who “own” the campaign.
It is one thing to participate, another to volunteer and it is certainly something else to own a campaign. The verb to own is from a 12th century expression meaning to possess, be in command of, rule or have authority over. To own is to understand the basic principle that even with a committee someone has to be in charge. This is both where the glory goes and where the buck stops.
In our dominant participative and egalitarian culture, we eschew ownership and often are faced with campaigns and projects that have momentum — movement by inertia — but no genuine leader. Absent an owner, chief development officers and CEO’s step into the void and operate as if they were the owners. In some settings, it is even left to the consultant to take command of campaigns that lack the right level of leadership, that lack ownership, shared or otherwise. Good for them. Someone has to own – have command of, authority over or possession of the project.
In the most successful campaigns, ownership is broad and shared. Whether owned by a committee or a chair, the important thing is to be clear about who owns each campaign. Before you are ready to launch your next major fundraising initiative — ask the question, “Who is the owner?” If you can’t name the owner, be sure to pause. If you can, then let that owner move you full speed ahead.