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7 Characteristics of a Strong Fundraiser

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By Patton McDowell, President

With more than 20 executive searches under the PMA belt, clients and friends continue to ask about the key characteristics of a good fundraiser. Often when you think of a major gift fundraiser, the solicitation skill comes to mind. Can the person ask for money? While that is important, other characteristics are equally if not more important to a person’s success.

  1. An Articulate Voice. A strong fundraiser is able to articulate the strategy or vision of the organization. Funders want to know where the organization is going, and they don’t want to be solicited just to hit a numerical goal or fill the end of year gap for a fundraiser. A good fundraiser is able to paint the picture of the future, the strategy and vision on which the organization is embarking.
  2. A Financial Connector. A strong fundraiser has the ability to understand the overall finances of the organization. We as fundraisers focus too much on the gift amount. The sophisticated donor prospect wants to understand the organization’s business model and how a gift is part of an overall package. These financial conversations include understanding where other revenues are coming into the organization, the efficiency of the budget, the impact of measurement on finances, etc. A good fundraiser is able to talk through this topic in a knowledgeable manner with a donor and inspire confidence.
  3. A Sector Conversationalist. A strong fundraiser is conversant within the sector. Major donors look at the bigger picture and see that your organization is part of a bigger movement to serve a particular population. For instance, a strong fundraiser in a  poverty-focused organization is able to not only talk about that organization’s mission to eradicate poverty but also the organization’s combined efforts with other groups to solve the overall problem in that city or region. A strong fundraiser is conversant about the themes and headlines in the sector at large.
  4. A Wise Broadcaster. A strong fundraiser has the ability to distill and prioritize information. Many development professionals make the mistake of trying to win over the donor with volume. With so much info, programs, good news, a donor can get overwhelmed by it. The ability of the gift officer to distill and prioritize information tailored to this donor prospect is incredibly important in this information age.
  5. An Effective Researcher. A strong fundraiser is able to research effectively. When prospecting a donor, do your homework. Talk to other folks who know this prospect. To understand their business, their family and other charitable interests of this donor. – shows why you need to be a good researcher. You don’t simply come into the room with a donor just telling your story. Some development professionals think that a perfectly polished speech will compel the donor to give when it really must be combined with effective research on donor interests.
  6. A Strategic Storyteller. A strong fundraiser has the ability to utilize appropriate but tangible examples of your organization’s work. Storytelling with a purpose. A strong fundraiser is able to communicate not only the facts and figures but also deliver strategically, effective stories. Some sample lines include: “Let me tell you about a family that we helped through this program or that environmental cause that we serve because of this research.”
  7. An Active Listener. A strong fundraiser is a good listener. I am overwhelmed sometimes by the lack of active listening skills and the patience not to interrupt someone. Realizing that if you let the donor talk, he or she will often reveal his or her interests, timetable, capacity and all the things that you want to know. Instead, an inexperienced fundraiser feels like he or she must deliver a speech and ultimately misses out. The communication model for a fundraiser is talking 1/3 of the time while the donor is talking 2/3 of the time.

Whether you are looking to fill a development role in your organization or just personally looking for another role yourself, consider these characteristics as you review development roles.

For more information on search services by PMA, contact Patton at pm@pattonmcdowell.com.