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Characteristics of a Successful Fundraiser

With more than 20 nonprofit leadership 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.

An Articulate Voice. A strong fundraiser is able to paint the picture of the future, articulating 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 Financial Connector. A strong fundraiser has the ability to understand and explain the overall finances of the organization. The sophisticated 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 Sector Conversationalist. A strong fundraiser is conversant about the themes and headlines in the sector at large. Major donors look at the big picture and want to see that your organization is part of a bigger movement to serve a particular population. For instance, a strong fundraiser in a poverty-focused nonprofit is able to not only talk about that organization’s mission and programs to eradicate poverty but also the community’s combined efforts to solve the problem at a macro level.

A Wise Broadcaster. A strong fundraiser has the ability to distill and prioritize information tailored to each prospect. Many development professionals make the mistake of trying to win over the donor with volume. In this information age, a prospective donor can get overwhelmed with or frustrated by too much information, programs, and news.

An Effective Researcher. A strong fundraiser is able to research effectively when prospecting a donor to understand their business, their family, and other charitable interests. Some development professionals think that a perfectly polished speech will compel the donor to give when, in fact, the pitch must be combined with effective research on donor interests and history.

A Strategic Storyteller. A strong fundraiser has the ability to utilize appropriate but tangible examples of your organization’s work. A strong fundraiser communicates not only the facts and figures but also delivers purposeful, effective stories. For example: “Let me tell you about a family that we helped through this program” or “I want to share about this environmental cause that we support because of this research.”

An Active Listener. A strong fundraiser is a good listener, consistently practicing active listening skills and showing the patience not to interrupt. Realize that if you let the donor talk, he or she will often reveal interests, timetable, capacity, and many other things that you need to know. The general communication model for a fundraiser to follow is talking 1/3 of the time while the donor talks 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