Master the Art of Being Influential at Work

Lucy Gower, FINZ NewViewz December 2015

Good ideas do not just happen. You might have all the budget you need, the best processes, and the latest technology, but if you do not have inspired and motivated people nothing happens.

Whether you are inspiring your donor to make a decision to give, persuading your manager to test your ideas, encouraging corporate funders to support your organisation or motivating colleagues to get on board to with your project, the skill of inspiring and influencing others is crucial for your career development.

Inspiring donors

People prefer to say yes to people they like. We also like people who are similar to us.
When I was a fundraiser at the NSPCC we had case studies that we shared with donors about the work the organisation did and the difference their donation could make to children that had suffered abuse. The cases were highly emotive, yet I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting good enough results. My manager gave me some excellent advice: to find stories that I could tell in my own words, because only then could I connect with them and inspire others.

I wanted to work at the NSPCC because I had previously been a volunteer Childline counsellor. I started to tell stories about how on every shift you spent time on the switchboard. I shared how the calls just stacked up. We couldn’t answer them all. After sharing my experiences, when I asked donors if they would like the opportunity to donate to help us answer every call, many, many more said yes.

Persuading your manager

In your career you’ll have to influence your manager, perhaps to endorse your new idea, or to expand your experience through signing off a budget for a training course or give you time to develop new projects. The day I acknowledged that part of my role was to help make my manager look good, my influencing abilities improved significantly.

In my experience, people can be reluctant to take risks or try something new for fear of failure. So you have to give your manager the confidence that the risk of failure is low. You can do this by showing them what someone else, with a similar professional background, and whom they respect, is doing that is working. Make it easy for them to say yes by suggesting a small test. For example, I wanted to work with a new event supplier, we tested the new supplier at one small event before making any big decisions, and it helped that another manager had worked with this supplier and recommended them.

Corporate partners

You may have to encourage corporate partners to work with you. Inspiring them is about offering a win-win partnership. It is an opportunity for both parties to drive a positive and important change that you both care about – that also has the potential to increase both parties income. An example of this is the partnership that university UCL has developed with major food retailers. Together, Iceland, Morrisons, Asda and Waitrose have agreed to donate the new 5p bag levy to fund the £100m shortfall in income for the world-class dementia research centre at UCL. The retailers have positioned themselves as partners working together to drive change about a cause that is increasingly important to their customers, which will impact their brand perception and their bottom line.

Motivating your colleagues

People prefer to say yes to people they like. We also like people who are similar to us. Early in my fundraising career I had to work with an overstretched database team on multiple projects. It was a difficult relationship; we were all under pressure to deliver on many projects with conflicting deadlines. In the hope of building relationships I started going upstairs to their office rather than emailing. One day I arrived at my colleagues’ desk at the same time as a delivery of shoes for a wedding they were going to. We spent 10 minutes trying on shoes discussing which would be most suitable with her dress. Others might have seen us and thought it was a frivolous waste of time, but after that the work got done more quickly, we had a discussion about why I needed the data and we worked together to find the best way to get it.

The more you know about the people you want to inspire and influence, the more equipped you will be to think about the best way to approach them. You may not get it right first time, but work out why it was unsuccessful and try again and keep trying because the only way you make your ideas happen is to work with and inspire others.

Lucy Gower is the author of The Innovation Workout and a coach and consultant specialising in developing creative, collaborative, high performing teams in the UK. She tweets @lucyinnovation
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Master the Art of Being Influential at Work



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