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Authentic leadership: The key to successful hospital philanthropy programs

Leah Eustace and R. Scott Fortnum
Published:  08/26/2016

Leah Eustace and R. Scott Fortnum

Originally published August 26, 2016 AHP Connect

The following article is based on an AHP webinar presented May 25, 2016, by Leah Eustace, CFRE, ACFRE, chair of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy Canada, and chief idea goddess at Good Works in Ottawa, ON, and by R. Scott Fortnum, MA, CFRE, ACFRE, executive director of The Living City Foundation in Toronto, ON.

Organizations depend on their leaders, but despite their importance, a leadership crisis is currently affecting nonprofits. You may even be experiencing it firsthand. Does your organization lack a united board and staff? Are board members confused about their roles? Is there lack of donor trust?

Chances are that you’ve seen at least one of these issues, as “62% of nonprofit leaders don’t...know how to create a vision,” according to the Concord Leadership report. Leah Eustace and R. Scott Fortnum addressed this issue in the AHP May webinar by sharing their tips on how you can help your organization practice authentic leadership.

Management vs. Leadership

The title of boss equates to that of a leader, but this, contends Fortnum, is not always true. Higher ups are often individually skilled, but they lack the careful strategic vision necessary to guide others. Leadership relies on an ability to express your beliefs, rather than through a formalized approach.

Authentic Leadership

Becoming a “character-based leader” does not happen overnight, Eustace explains. It’s a journey that is made up of individual contributions, which eventually leads into a leadership position. Setbacks are normal when you are first cast in a leadership position. You have to learn how to lead quickly as new challenges naturally arise. How you deal with those problems will mold your leadership style.

Five characteristics of authentic leaders

The following five characteristics come from Bill George’s book, Authentic Leaders.


“What’s your purpose?” Eustace posits that “for our organizations, it is our mission and vision,” but this is unique when it comes to individuals. She defines purpose as something “that inspires as it pulls people together, and it focuses attention on what matters most while at the same time guiding action.” Purpose is necessary to lead others because it gives you a specific direction to follow.

Core Values

Core values are formed over time, but self-contemplation is needed to identify them. Once identified, you must follow these in practice, in order to avoid “a disconnect between what you say and how you act,” explains Fortnum. Both individuals and foundations should express their values so that it becomes easier to connect over shared ideals.

Trusting relations

Building trust is significant because “relationships built on trust grow strong during a crisis.” They are lifelines that keep organizations afloat during times of trouble. Below, Eustace and Fortnum provide tips on building relationships.

  • Be accessible. Create as many points of contact in order to give donors a clear picture of who you are. Social media is a great way to accomplish this.
  • Share your story. On the “About Staff” page, provide a story that allows the reader to follow your career path. Include a photo of yourself so donors can match your name to your face.
  • Don’t use a generic info@info.org email address. Using a personal email address will create a tone of familiarity and friendliness with the donor.


Self-discipline involves acting according to what you think instead of how you feel in the moment, states Fortnum. To be an authentic leader, you must remain calm no matter how high your stress levels can reach. Restraint can create an air of respect, which makes others more comfortable when interacting with you.

Act from the heart

The two words that summarize acting from the heart are “passion and compassion,” shares Eustace. To develop these traits, you must “[follow] your own path...and [be] true to yourself.” You can demonstrate passion and compassion in various ways, such as through event participation, enthusiasm, or knowledge in your field.

Applying these principles to organizations

n order for your foundation to represent the five characteristics of an authentic leader, you must have a “mission driven organization.” Missions encourage an increase in donors, as well as board and development officers’ involvement because they put forth clear goals.

A story is the best way to communicate your mission because it can demonstrate the five characteristics of leaders in an engaging way. A mission-driven story has the potential to ignite passion and compassion so that big changes can happen for your organization.

NEWS  /10/10/14
The following is an excerpt from AHP’s new book, Redefining Healthcare Philanthropy, written by thought leaders from across the profession.
NEWS  /12/15/16
Ask yourself, am I being the kind of leader that I would want to follow?” said Dick Vollet, President & CEO of St. Paul’s Foundation
NEWS  /02/14/18
Adapted from a 2017 AHP Annual International Conference presentation by Lori Counts, Principal Consultant, Accordant Philanthropy and Julie Cox, FAHP, VP of Development, LifeBridge Health

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Leah Eustace and R. Scott Fortnum

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