Is it hard-charging ambition? A willingness to ask strangers for money? The impervious hide of a door to door salesman?
Maybe those things help. But as I think about the best fundraisers I know, I think of different traits.
Genuine care for people
If you don’t like people, you won’t like fundraising. It’s all about people.
This doesn’t mean you need to be an extrovert. It does mean you need to truly value people – the people you serve, the people you work with, the people who give.
Kindness is an underappreciated quality in the professional world. Cultivate it – you’ll be a better fundraiser and a better person!
Belief in the cause
I know there are people who are comfortable working anywhere they feel treated well. And we all have to eat.
But if you’re not genuinely committed to your cause, it will show. That Eau de Whatever you’ve been wearing? Donors can smell it across the room. Your co-workers can, too.
Work where your heart is.
Good communication skills
I’m a copywriter. I love writing for donors.
But you don’t have to be a great writer to be a good communicator. Good communication isn’t about a massive vocabulary. It’s about connection.
However you communicate best, you need to be able to share stories in a convincing way.
Math was never my best subject. When my son comes home from high school talking about linear equations I’m not much help. I’ll even admit it: I pull out a calculator to figure out a tip.
But I can happily dive into a spreadsheet. I can understand what the numbers mean and how they relate to fundraising.
You don’t have to be a genius. You do have to be capable of analyzing your results. Most importantly, you can’t disregard numbers because you don’t find them interesting.
An open mind
What’s gospel today could be tomorrow’s old news.
Just because something used to be true, doesn’t it mean it will always be – or will always be for any particular organization.
(“Direct mail is dead. Move to all digital.”… “Google+ will kill Facebook.” Would you like a bridge with that?)
Test. Learn. Be ready to let go of your long-held musts when they’re proven wrong.
Stamina and patience
A good fundraising program can take years to build. In the meantime, program staff or board members may get antsy. Operating budgets don’t fund themselves.
But you will need to see the goal down the road. You’ll need to balance today’s demands with tomorrow’s.
It takes years to build relationships. If you’re impatient with progress or bored easily, you may never invest enough time to see your work pay off.
Always be learning. Always.
I’m not talking only about new developments or techniques in our field.
You will need to be curious about the people you’re connecting with.
So long as donors are just “targets” your connection will be superficial. That’s not likely to lead to great results.
Find out what makes them tick. Ask questions. Learn about their lives, their kids, their hobbies.
And when you can’t talk to every donor, try a survey.
Good communicators listen well. They also notice things other people might miss.
Years ago, we had a staff contest – who could match people to their favorite song? No surprise to me that one of the smartest fundraisers I know got every one right. It wasn’t that we were all the best of friends. It was that she really paid attention to the people around her.
Are you really paying attention to your donors?
If you can spend more time listening and less talking, people will find you more interesting.
They’ll want to talk with you. You’ll both connect and gain important insights that will help you fundraise better.
Willing to credit others to get results
If it’s all about you, you won’t get very far.
My best fundraising happened when I worked with other people collaboratively. We weren’t worried about whose success it was – it was ours, as a team.
If you manage people, this is also really important. Make your team look great and don’t worry about tooting your horn.
It takes trust, of course. And it helps if your supervisors notice and value this quality.
But if you really want results, you focus on results, not credit.
How about you?
What have you seen in yourself or colleagues that makes a great fundraiser?
Photo by Danielle MacInnes