I turned my car down Morgridge Drive and parked at the headquarters of Cisco Systems, one of the world’s leading technology companies at the heart of Silicon Valley’s tech industry. It was a crisp January morning that happened to coincide with the late yoga master Paramhansa Yogananda’s birthday, a fact that brought a yogi like me some comfort. I sat for a moment, letting the nerves over my upcoming presentation to John Morgridge, CEO and chairman of the board, release with several deep breaths. Once calm, I entered the building and rode the elevator with my colleagues from CARE, an international humanitarian organization dedicated to ending global poverty.
John’s assistant greeted us and helped us prepare the PowerPoint, which faltered precariously toward utter failure; an outcome that would have been ironic and entirely unforgivable given our location. John and several other CARE Board members entered the room and greeted us warmly, their humanity sinking in and releasing any lingering sense of fear.
Throughout my presentation, I felt waves of gratitude for the hard work that had gone into its preparation. I was also acutely aware that my years of meditation enabled me to rise above performance anxiety to deliver an intelligent and inspiring funding presentation for this room full of C-suite executives. The response from my audience was thoughtful and overwhelmingly supportive. It was not lost on me that a contribution followed one week later, which represented an increase of 100% over the previous year.
This experience was the culmination of a campaign that I undertook at CARE called the Impact Fund, a major donor investment opportunity to cover the $15M in annual flexible needs across the organization. I learned a great deal about the strategy and execution of campaign management through the Impact Fund launch. And yet, it was my subsequent five years running campaigns at Ananda, a nonprofit dedicated to sharing the teachings and tools of yoga in the tradition of Paramhansa Yogananda, where I developed the intuitive skills that bring campaigns to an entirely new level of success.
This topic deserves a book in itself, but for now, I thought to share two key insights from the incredible power that I have found by combining intellect with intuition when leading campaigns:
1. Intellect: Assess the landscape
At the start of any campaign, we begin with an intellectual review of the landscape. We assess the campaign’s viability based on the organization’s existing resources; its people, processes, systems, measurable impact, and position within the sector. This is largely an intellectual exercise and it does much more than asses a campaign’s viability. Invariably, I have found that a thoughtful assessment results in identifying gaps within the organization itself that a campaign can help to address.
For example, at CARE, the Impact Fund addressed a challenge that all large NGOs face; how to demonstrate the impact of unrestricted donations that are used across every facet of the organization. Finding a way to track flexible funding and communicate its value required CARE to increase its appreciation for that type of funding. For an organization built on multi-million dollar restricted grants from multi-lateral agencies, that was no small task.
At Ananda, the assessment process for my first capital campaign identified the need to improve the planning phase, so that an inspirational, pragmatic, and transparent capital campaign can be a success. This meant that more time was required in a deliberate, collaborative, and transparent planning process, so that the architectural plans, budgets, fundraising, and construction phases could all align to fulfill the vision for the building.
Both of these gaps addressed by these respective campaigns had direct impact on organizational culture, making the results lasting and transformative.
2. Intuition: Tune into people
This is a core capacity to develop when leading campaigns. Tuning into people is an act of empathy. It requires you to enter into another person’s world to discover what inspires them to give it their best. Campaigns are always cross-functional, so leading campaigns means finding common motivations between differing departments and people with different objectives.
Campaigns are also invariably all about engaging the enthusiasm and support of constituents. This too cannot be done effectively without the power of empathy to guide your strategy toward success. There certainly is data that can underpin a campaign, but without stepping into the shoes of the group you intend to engage, you will likely miss the mark.
There are many psychological challenges that make empathy difficult for people. The good news is that empathy can be learned.
Dr. Carol Dweck has done a great deal of research on the human capacity to improve through her work on growth mindsets. Brene Brown too has pioneered research around vulnerability that will result in empathy.
In my experience though, meditation is the key to unlocking your ability to empathize effectively.
As you get to know yourself on a deeper level, you will begin to understand the world around you and the people in it in entirely new ways. Meditation teaches you to still the intellect and learn to feel what is beneath all of the mental noise. As you practice, you will discover that sense of calm “knowing” that rests within you. Strong within your own origin point, you will be able to relate to others from the quiet of your inner nature and see past the outside of the person standing before you to the quiet place in them too.
These two keys are really just the beginning. Learning to harness energy for campaign timing, maintain discipline for project management, and communicate impact and inspiration, are all aspects of campaign success that require a balance of intellect and intuition. More on that coming soon.