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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 8.3


Characteristics of a Successful Fundraiser

Successful fundraisers can be difficult to find, and they are very much in demand.

When recruiting new staff you might broaden the search to include people looking to start a new career in fundraising either straight from their own education or from other sectors. These candidates will find it difficult to demonstrate any fundraising track record, so what are the fundamental characteristics you should be looking for?

Good Communicator

Good fundraisers enjoy the company of other people and are good communicators. They are eloquent conversationalists and exceptional listeners. They can communicate not only by speaking but also in writing and through presentations. It is important that their manner is warm and engaging rather than domineering or intimidating. They need to be chameleon-like in their ability to adapt their communication style to different audiences and occasions. But beware the person who likes the sound of his or her own voice too much. A skilled fundraiser will draw prospective donors into conversation and listen intently.

Passionate, Enthusiastic, Commited to the Cause

Fundraising is about inspiring people to offer their support. Good fundraisers inspire people to give support by communicating their enthusiasm for the causes they are representing. A good fundraiser should be knowledgeable about the cause and personally convinced of its value. This passionate commitment to the cause cannot be faked. An insincere fundraiser will be an unsuccessful fundraiser.

Strategic and Innovative

Good fundraisers inspire not only prospects and donors but also the institution’s leaders and academics, and they must be innovative and strategic in channelling this inspiration into appropriate action (e.g., determining what prospect, donor, event or project could use the support of the leader/academic). Beyond engaging others, fundraisers must be innovative and strategic in prioritising prospects/donors, seeing connections and new opportunities, determining when activities can be standardized and when they need to be customized, and in their overall approach to meeting their goals.

Vigilant and Conscientiousness

Successful fundraisers are often called ‘relentless’, as they persistently pursue support for their cause. They are vigilant in maintaining contact with their prospects (often over many years before securing a significant donation), confident enough to make ‘the ask’ yet conscientious about the appropriate timing. A substantial proportion of a fundraiser’s time is spent investing in the prospect management system by writing up contact reports, logging new information and plotting links between prospects. This is a time-consuming, laborious process, but for the conscientious fundraiser it can pay great dividends.

Systematic and Organised

Established fundraisers can be managing well over 100 relationships with prospects or donors at any one time. To do this properly, they need to be systematic and organised in their approach. This is expressed through great time management, record keeping, forward planning and extremely thorough follow-up.

Optimistic, with Good Self-Esteem

It can be disheartening when a prospect says ‘no’ or a donor only gives £100 when you were hoping for £100,000, but a good fundraiser determines if the ‘no’ is really a ‘not now’ or ‘maybe another project’, and he learns from each experience, moving on with optimism undiminished and self-esteem intact. It can be difficult to maintain an optimistic outlook in the face of disappointment, but the support of colleagues in a team can be invaluable on these occasions.

Good Team Member

Fundraising is a team effort, and fundraisers need to be able to work well within a team environment.

You can see some examples of the person specifications in sample job descriptions on the CASE website.

Action Items
  • Before hiring fundraisers for your team – or even finalizing the job description – look closely at the qualifications of successful fundraisers you have encountered, and talk with other development directors about their lessons learned.
  • Focus more on characteristics than on a specific type of background.
  • Review your fundraising strategy and the primary types of donors you are targeting to determine if there are specific characteristics that might best align with your goals.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Developing a fundraising strategy
Donor cultivation
Recruiting the right people
Setting achievable targets

Moyra Doyle, managing director of Richmond Associates, describes the qualities of a good fundraiser.
Leisl Elder talks about hiring major gifts staff and the qualities to look for in a fundraising professional.