Uncommon Talent: Kailee Scales, Aiming High and Staying Focused
Staying focused and seizing opportunities has been the formula for success for fundraising professional Kailee Scales. With over 15 years of experience working with domestic and international organizations, Scales was most recently Chief Development Officer at Building Markets. We spoke recently with Scales about her work at Building Markets and what motivates her as a leader.
How has your career path led you to international and economic development?
Fundraising has opened up many opportunities and brought me to a lot of exciting and different places. My career has been an interesting mix of work with a wide range of organizations. My first fundraising job was an extraordinary experience; I was the fundraiser for Barry Ford, a candidate for the US Congress. It was fast-paced, grassroots, with 24/7 demands. The experience of working with constituents, the candidate, a field team, and raising money was intense. It was baptism by fire. And it created a fire in me to succeed.
I also raised funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, where I raised an unprecedented $7M for ALS research, the Boys and Girls Club, and Jumpstart for Young Children, each time experiencing exponential growth. By then I knew that fundraising was what I was meant to do. Working as the fundraiser for the Queen of Sweden was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was very hard work, but I knew that going in and that’s why I wanted to do the job. It introduced me to international philanthropy and to the strategies of building relationships with world-renowned philanthropists.
As a start-up social enterprise with a focus on economic development, Building Markets gave me the opportunity do something new and fresh and continue to have an international focus. Working with people from all over the world, I was able to put my international relationship building skills to good use and challenging myself even more.
Tell us about Building Market’s approach to job creation in developing countries.
Building Markets creates jobs and sustains peace in developing countries by providing services that champion local entrepreneurs and connects them to new business opportunities. It all started through on the ground experience and analysis, when Building Markets’ leaders realized that there was a need for job creation and the development of the local economy in some of the world’s poorest countries. These early leaders found that the lowest hanging fruit to achieve this was to encourage the local procurement of goods and services. Unfortunately it’s not so easy because many international agencies and buyers don’t know how to procure locally. So Building Markets deployed a series of activities including creating a business directory, matchmaking local businesses to international buyers, and helping local entrepreneurs find, bid on, and win international contracts. Ultimately, the goal of Building Markets is to educate and equip entrepreneurs with the resources they need to thrive. Building Markets has had Sustainable Marketplace Initiatives in Afghanistan, Haiti, Timor Leste and Liberia. It’s truly a brilliant idea.
How did you affect change at Building Markets?
When I started at Building Markets, the focus mainly was on bilateral donors, international governments who were able to support the organization’s mission while meeting their own development goals. Above and beyond that there were other donors who were interested in the organization and my role was to engage them and generate new interest by other parties. I had to think about what the organization’s value proposition was and figure out what we offered the broader donor community- the measurable impact, the opportunity to make their own supply chain more sustainable- and then I developed a giving plan and outreach plan for those donors.
I also led the team that created partnerships with multinational corporations. Many corporations that are in developing countries have to, as part of their agreement to be in the country, contribute to and benefit the local community. So I created a giving plan around engaging corporations and trained local staff on how to approach and sustain long-term relationships with corporate supporters.
What were some early leadership lessons for you?
One of the things that I learned mid career is how important honesty is to a team. So, as a leader, I’ve learned to bring honesty whenever possible- honesty about challenges, as well as highlighting successes and things that go well. I have learned that people want to come along with you on the journey as you work to realize the vision for your team, through all of the peaks and valleys. They don’t want to be with someone who is closed off in their office, internalizing things; they want someone who is open, who shares information, who says what they mean.
What was the best advice you were given on leadership?
A real leader thinks about the group and not themselves. I learned that through my work with Barry Ford as he ran for US Congress which was the best example of leadership I could have had early in my career. I learned that it is extremely important to ask yourself what is best for the team, for the organization, and the constituents. Once you’ve done that your leadership is justified. You are a true leader if you can understand and address the needs of the group.
Did your parents influence your leadership style?
My father came from an extremely poor background yet he built a successful career and raised his daughters to be ambitious and thriving women. I had to figure out how he was able to do this, to overcome his many obstacles. I realized it came from his belief in himself and from assuming his own personal power. My father had the drive and energy to achieve. I also learned from my father to bring knowledge, passion, skill and focus to my work and to make sure that what I am doing is always of the highest level of integrity.
I think that we all have the opportunity to be self actualized, but it doesn’t just come. You have to seek your opportunities, take advantage of the opportunities as they come along and not allow yourself to be distracted. Assuming your personal power is being focused on being who you were meant to be and never looking back.
Interview conducted and condensed by Maria Peralta for CommonGood Careers