By Phil Gerard
What is the stuff that makes a good fundraiser? Many fundraising professionals I have met or worked with in my career are extremely talented. I thought about some of the characteristics these individuals have in common. Then, I considered the top characteristics my clients have identified. And this is how this list of eight characteristics came to be.
We have this idea that all fundraisers are gregarious types. Yes, there are fundraisers who can work the room like their lives depend on it. At events they talk to everybody and return to the office with a plethora of business cards. But because they did so much roaming and talking they were not able to have many meaningful conversations and did not learn much about a prospect’s interests.
I have been guilty of this myself. You are so focussed on pitching that you pay little attention to what the other person is telling you. You feel obligated to give that elevator speech no matter what. It often becomes a monologue rather than a conversation.
But I have seen fundraisers who have organic, real conversations, not pitches. They listen and then connect the dots and only talk about projects that after listening to the prospect could possibly matter and interest them.
After learning more about a prospect’s interests, smart fundraisers strategically start the cultivation process and engage potential donors in a way that is meaningful to them. Rather than throwing one proposal after the other at the prospect to see what sticks they spend more time on researching and tailor-fitting a project or idea before making the ask.
Larger fundraising shops have the luxury of many resources including professional writers who can assist the frontline fundraisers in the development of collateral material. The reality is however, that eventually every fundraiser will need to present their ideas in written form, whether that is a one-pager, a proposal, a thank you letter or simply a follow-up email. Being able to convey your thoughts in compelling copy is a huge asset.
Perseverance and Patience
Fundraising is not for someone with instant gratification needs. Especially not major gifts. Successful fundraisers are able to take rejection, they know that activity will lead to success (eventually) and that cultivation takes time. Those fundraisers who have a strong track record usually have significant tenures with the same organization.
This seems obvious in fundraising. While you don’t have to be the most gregarious person in the room you should enjoy making connections and cultivating relationships. You need to be more comfortable in the frontlines than behind a desk.
Integrity and Gravitas
Unfortunately, as fundraisers we sometimes have this image problem of being a salesperson. Sometimes donors say that they don’t want a fundraiser at the meeting, they just want to talk to the program person, the ED, the Dean, or Professor (depending on your organization). We need to work hard on building trust with donors and help them understand that we are professionals who need to be in the room to bring a vision to reality and make sure the donor’s wishes are met before, during and after the deal is sealed.
Can Do Attitude
This is something that comes up every single time I ask a client what they are looking for in a fundraiser. Someone who is dynamic, a fire-cracker who can get the job done with a smile! Fundraisers have to be proactive and positive. Fundraising is a contact sport a colleague once said to me. You need to take initiative, run your own show and make it happen rather than blaming others or circumstances for lack of success.
There are fundraisers who have a cowboy mentality, meaning they think they can do better on their own. The most successful fundraisers I have seen are collegial, they collaborate with other fundraisers to bring donors the best experience, and they treat the advancement services staff with respect. Thinking that the money you raised as a fundraiser is all your own doing is problematic. It is always a team effort.
Fundraising is not rocket science but nonetheless it is a real profession and it is not for everyone. Employers need to consider carefully the right hard skills and soft skills in their next search for a star fundraiser and fundraisers want to consider whether they are promoting the right hard and soft skills in a resume and interview when looking for the next career opportunity.