Keen to develop your work and career? Andrew Sabatino, Director/Co-Founder at Donor Republic, reveals how he created a leadership framework that could be used by all of the staff at Guide Dogs.

Keen to develop your work and career? Andrew Sabatino, Director/Co-Founder at Donor Republic, reveals how he created a leadership framework that could be used by all of the staff at Guide Dogs.


Guide DogsLeadership has been one of my favourite areas of development because I have experienced transformational shifts not only in how I see myself but also in how I view others.

As a ‘young’ leader, many of my leadership challenges stemmed from my concerns around the relationship between age and position to leadership. I also struggled with perceptions around my parents never being in leadership positions – how could I be a good leader?

There are many lessons I have learned in leadership and will continue to learn. However, below I have outlined three areas that have had a big impact on me during my time leading the Guide Dogs’ fundraising and marketing program.

1 Develop a leadership framework

When I started at Guide Dogs in 2009, my colleagues and managers would often tell me I possessed strong leadership qualities. I always asked, ‘How so, exactly?’

Typically, they struggled to respond with anything material or useful. As I developed through the years and became a relatively young executive manager, I still wasn’t entirely clear on what leadership qualities I had that the organisation was looking for in its leaders.

Yes, I am a high achiever, I have high resilience, I am well-mannered (sometimes) and I communicate well (I think). But was that what Guide Dogs was looking for? I often struggled to clearly articulate ‘how’ to become a leader to other staff members, particularly because there was nothing tangible to assess against. I therefore embarked on creating a leadership framework that aimed to support staff to develop their own leadership qualities.

These were split into four areas and then split again into staffing categories so everyone within the organisation knew what was expected of them in their roles, which did wonders for role clarity. The four areas were: achieve, collaborate, grow and lead, and within these four global headings were further development subheadings drilling into key behaviours (a total of 25 focus areas for development).

After the document was distributed to staff for feedback and later approved by the executive team, it was then applied in professional development reviews and day to day to support managers with a guide on how to develop their future leaders.

Paramount to this was a commitment from the executive and board to invest in a formal leadership program. The ultimate principle nderpinning the framework was that leadership as defined by Guide Dogs comes from any position and age, not just from managers, executives and the board.

Interestingly, in February of this year, I was asked to present my key lessons in leadership as a recipient of FIA’s 2016 Young Fundraiser of the Year award. During my presentation at the FIA annual conference, I asked around 200 people whether their organisations had leadership frameworks and supporting leadership budgets. Only one hand went up, which was alarming.

2 The power of self-development

When I transitioned from my role as Donor Relations Co-ordinator to Donor Development Manager in 2010, because of the commitment Guide Dogs had to leadership I was sent on a number of leadership courses. I did many courses outside of what was offered at Guide Dogs as well. This was the most confronting area of my development, as during these selfdevelopment courses, it often felt like every single negative aspect of my personality was under the microscope.

The coaches would intentionally drill down into key weakness areas to establish fundamental thought patterns which often governed daily behaviour.

One of my key breakthroughs during thisprocess was to understand my perception of myself as a leader. My thought process to leadership was largely centred around my parents. I kept thinking, My parents aren’t leaders so that means I can’t be a leader. But I was only looking at their working careers and not their lives.

It was through the power of various coaching methods that I was able to understand my parents had taught me some fundamental traits of leadership through their daily lives:

Selflessness and commitment I had seen my parents work their day jobs and weekend jobs to make ends meet so my brother and I could attend private schools because they believed this would give us a better life.

Positivity and resilience
They kept pushing on with a positive, can-do attitude no matter what challenge came into their lives.

Efficiency and growth
They were always looking at ways to be better and faster, to ultimately make their lives easier and free up more time to take on other things they enjoyed.

Creativity and vision
My parents came to Australia with relatively little. Their existence and quality of life was reliant on them creating a life for themselves based on a vision they wanted.

Integrity and credibility
My parents were honest people who did the right thing. They would always treat people fairly and with respect.

Once I had tapped into these core qualities that my parents had taught me, I felt a deep sense of empowerment for myself and also for what I could offer others. Most importantly, I no longer experienced the limitations of how I used to see myself, preventing me from taking the lead on things in my career and in life.

This process of self-development also helped me with many other things, such as continually seeking feedback from my staff in key areas in which they wanted me to develop. These included making sure I respected their time by arriving at meetings on time, not checking my phone while talking to them and encouraging them to contribute during meetings rather than me dominating the conversation. Actively working on all these areas allowed me to have better experiences with work colleagues and friends.

3 Set your vision and empower others to follow

Finally, one of the most powerful things I did for my leadership development was build a plan that outlined my vision for fundraising at Guide Dogs. I researched the key elements of a successfulplan, studied various planning tools and looked at how I could encourage my team to be a part of the plan.

I became clear on the fundamentals of any plan: the why, what, when, who and how that are the foundations for stability and success.

In my seven years at Guide Dogs, I created three strategic fundraising plans, which I felt clearly articulated a roadmap to achieve the revenue we needed to support the growing number of people with vision loss.

I empowered my team to create their ownoperational plans to fulfil on the strategic vision, to constantly challenge themselves to be better each day, to remain resilient and to never forget what they were committed to – all aspects that would keep their visions and purposes alive.

During my time working at Guide Dogs, I learned from many positive leaders in a variety of roles. We were fortunate enough to increase revenue in South Australia from $1 million to $9 million and nationally from $51 million to $89 million – largely underpinned by the development of future leaders within our organisation and sector.

To contact Sabatino about the leadership materials he presented at FIA’s 2017 conference email

Andrew Sabatino

Andrew is the Director/Co-Founder at Donor Republic. He led Guide Dogs SA to experience significant annual fundraising growth from $1 million to $9 million over seven years. His fundraising blueprint also grew Guide Dogs Australia’s revenue from $53 million to $87 million. In 2016, he was named FIA Young Fundraiser of the Year.


This fundraising leadership article has been sponsored by not-for-profit performance improvement specialists, Advanced Solutions International (ASI).


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