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What Election Week Reminded Me About Leadership and Donor Relations

Hello Friends,

I’ll admit I was worried when I first realized I’d chosen the week of mid-term elections for my next blog post. Could I acknowledge this major moment in politics without getting political? And, after several intense weeks of campaign bombardment, what would anyone even feel like reading?

Election Night is now behind us. Much has been decided; some results remain unclear. What is absolutely certain for me is: I have a newfound appreciation for the “I Voted” selfie.

It’s no secret that recent political discourse in the United States has veered wildly from anything resembling civil. So, when I ventured onto my social media Tuesday and saw a newsfeed filled with photos of smiling friends, family and acquaintances celebrating their votes and encouraging others to do the same – regardless of affiliation or viewpoint – I was filled with hope. Hope that maybe we aren’t as broken as it sometimes seems. Hopeful because I saw so many people encouraging others to use their voice. Hopeful that maybe, just maybe, more of us are ready to listen to each other’s voices.

Then that hope turned to gratitude. Gratitude for the right to vote, for the right to use my voice.

I thought about how and where such encouragement shows up in my work. As a leader and as a colleague, do I actively encourage others to use their voice in our work together every day?

Whether advocating for change or championing the status quo, each of us has a voice that deserves to be heard. In the bustle of the day, it’s easy to give lip service to feedback from others, or simply not solicit it at all. When it comes to making decisions, I believe in finding a balance between efficiency and collaboration. Active participation from others doesn’t necessarily equate to slowing your process. When appropriately structured, input from others enhances ideas and improves outcomes. And yes, that input may not be aligned with our current thinking – it very well may not be what we want to hear. As leaders, we have a responsibility to ensure the viewpoints of others are considered before making a decision. Doing so – authentically and transparently – validates others in using their voice.

This doesn’t mean every decision is left to group consensus. We as leaders still have our own voice in the process; it’s simply important to recognize it is one of many.

And amongst the many is a significant voice we must always remember to include: our donors. We all have opinions about the best approach to this stewardship practice or that engagement activity – but in the end we must never lose sight that our decisions are bigger than us. Our decisions are first and foremost about the people we serve. That’s a sentiment I hope both we and our newly elected representatives across the country can carry into our work each and every day.

Before closing, I want to acknowledge two important details related to this post:

  • Many of my identities show up as privileged when it comes to the act of voting, and I recognize this is not everyone’s experience.

  • While a newsfeed filled with encouragement to Use Your Voice left me feeling hopeful and inspired, it does not negate the very real systemic oppression of the right to vote that others face (but that’s a topic for a different blog).

My thanks to those of you who were able and chose to use your voice in this week’s election, and for listening to mine via this week’s post.

With gratitude,


DRG Group member Matthew Helmer serves as Executive Director of CSU Events & Community Engagement at Colorado State University. His favorite way to encourage others to use their voice is by hosting an Open Ideation Session on any given topic. What’s yours? Tweet him @ExperienceGuru or connect on LinkedIn.


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