In the age of social media, when anyone with many Friends or a large Twitter following can be considered a thought leader, we need to step back and consider exactly what thought leadership is in the non-profit world, and why it so important for us to develop it to our best advantage. Thought leadership is a way for a brand to position itself as a leader in its field or sector by demonstrating its values, its expertise, and sharing its thinking about the future.
Michael Brenner, recognized as a top marketing influencer by Forbes and by Huffington Post as a top business keynote speaker, believes “thought leadership means you provide the best and deepest answers to your customers’ biggest questions in the formats your audience likes to consume.” To Brenner “authentic thought leadership remains a driving force in successful companies across almost every industry.”
In Business News Daily, Skye Schooley, writing to define thought leadership and why it matters, adds “As a notable expert in a specific company, industry, or society, a thought leader is someone who offers guidance and insight to those around them. In other words, a thought leader has a positive reputation of helping others with their knowledge and insight.”
As Caroline Avakian points out in the Jewish Philanthropy blog: “Thought leadership is not just a PR function. It requires that we have an idea–something to make the world a better place, something that will solve a problem or improve a process.” Organizations can be treasure troves of excellent ideas waiting to be unleashed and shared with the world. These organizations can succeed with limited resources and small or non-existent communications and marketing teams that are allocated to drumming up support in an overcrowded charity marketplace.
An organization’s energy is sometimes focused on elevating a single member of its team to thought leadership status, usually someone high in the hierarchy like the executive director. At The Fedcap Group, conversely, we are totally committed to populating our organization with thought leaders who serve as a collective asset. When we foster a culture of deep learning and train staff in our core philosophy and values, we will develop more ways for thought leadership to become embedded in the DNA of the agency. We recognize that thought leadership can come from any source – executives, customers, product managers, designers, customer service reps, and sales people. We all have knowledge, experience and a point of view. As it permeates the organization, it organically spreads to the community.
Avakian notes, “Thought leadership is arguably the most effective and least expensive way an organization can build awareness, support for ideas, and influence the communities it needs to reach, including decision makers, policy makers and donors.”