The most exciting (and challenging) element of the program was the culmination of two+ years of learning into one experience. Students were invited to create either a project — to be executed in or around the organizations where they work — or a theoretical article.
Having been so enamored with the ideals of servant-leadership — and realizing that very little scholarship or literature has been written about the practical uses of the philosophy within philanthropy — I chose to write a thorough, well-researched article.
About the Theoretical Article
There is an academic and public void with regard to servant-leadership and philanthropy. Some have explored the subject from the perspective of donors and philanthropies — including the philosophy’s namesake, Robert Greenleaf — while others have loosely affirmed that servant-leadership is a noble pursuit. However, very few (if any) existing resources suggest actionable behaviors.
For example, Spears (2010) suggests that listening is a top characteristic of a servant-leader — along with empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community — though virtually none of the available literature explains how a fundraiser might effectively listen to increase philanthropy.
This void presented a tremendous opportunity to create a comprehensive, current review of the core servant-leadership characteristics, while assigning three behavioral practices to each of the traits.
Where the Research Meets the Road
Though academic in nature, the culminating article resembles something like a “field guide” for fundraisers, nonprofit leaders, and other stakeholders to lean into servant-leadership to improve and bolster philanthropy.
A rigorous dive into Robert Greenleaf’s early writing — some of which specifically centers around philanthropy — to other essays, books, and articles encouraged a comprehensive review of the competencies learned during my graduate journey. This knowledge included empathetic listening, systems thinking, organizational communication, and myriad other elements.
The benefits of the project were ostensibly two-fold:
- Personal Mastery: First, it was vital — to the best of my ability — to fully understanding the ideals and tactical practices of servant-leadership and how this would impact my professional and personal life (Senge, 1990/2006).
- Reach and Engagement: Moving the article from being theoretical to practical was essential. Colleagues in the nonprofit space — at a few professional service organizations and even a podcast company — have asked to publish the paper (in full form and distilled essays) with interest in presentations of the findings on conference workshops and on webinar/podcast episodes.
The Servant-Raiser Field Guide
Those interested in 30 actionable ways to practice servant-leadership in philanthropy can download The Servant-Raiser Field Guide freely:
If you wish to receive more details about the research as it becomes more public, please visit the contact page and enter your details!
Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. Doubleday. (Original work published in 1990).
Spears, L. C. (2010). Character and servant leadership: Ten characteristics of effective, caring leaders. Regent University. https://www.regent.edu/journal/journal-of-virtues-leadership/character-and-servant-leadership-ten-characteristics-of-effective-caring-leaders/