Is there a fundraising type? A combination, say, of Elon Musk and Angeline Jolie that is outgoing, people-oriented, well organized, and goal oriented?
It’s very hard, perhaps impossible, to know what makes an ideal fundraiser. If you were designing the perfect fly-catcher, you probably wouldn’t fashion it to look like a frog.
Still, in my 40 years in the field, during which time I encountered thousands of development officers, I believe I’ve been able to winnow the list of traits and attributes—I call them “Verities”—that distinguish the consummate fundraiser. All of them can be cultivated.
In my book, Born to Raise: What Makes a Great Fundraiser Great, I discuss each in depth. Here, I’ll touch on a handful of the most consequential.
You are a communicator
What Peter Drucker says about leadership is immediately transferable to fundraising. The responsibility of an effective fundraiser, he notes, is thinking through the organization’s mission. You must be able to communicate clearly and compellingly the goals of your agency and its priorities.
Success is always coupled with perseverance
George Sand, author of Middlemarch and other novels, was no fundraiser. But in one of her famous letters she wrote a remarkable definition of success appropriate to our field: “Simple taste, a certain degree of courage, self-denial to a point, love of work, and persistence and perseverance.”
You are high-touch, low tech
You have a great appreciation for the range of electronic resources available but you understand the computer doesn’t take the place of calling on someone personally for the gift—anymore than a pencil substitutes for literacy.
You have an unwavering commitment to your organization and a near-militant belief in its mission
Goethe wrote: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to drop back, always ineffective. The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.” Your commitment to the cause must glow and glitter for all to see.
You know it has to benefit the donor
Buck Rogers, the marketing guru of IBM, once said: “At IBM, we don’t sell products—we sell solutions.” Few people buy a project, no matter how altruistic they are. Not if there isn’t some benefit to them. Even the highest level of altruism is selfish to a great extent. You’ve got to give your prospects WIIFM—What’s In It For Me? If you help a person get what they want, you can secure most any gift.
You practice the principle of ready, fire, aim
Some in our field are guilty of spending the bulk of their time preparing for a campaign, or analyzing the most effective way to call on a prospect, or evaluating and reevaluating their plans. They never seem to have time to actually go out and ask for the gift. For such analysis paralysis the prognosis isn’t good. The patient will almost certainly pass away or eke out their profession in the most lackluster sort of way.
You have a great job in what you’re doing, a love affair
In one of his speeches, Will Rogers said: “If you want to be successful, it’s pretty simple. There are only three things to keep in mind. Know what you’re doing. Love what you’re doing. And believe in what you’re doing.”
Success in fundraising is due less to experience than ardor. Less to intelligence than zeal. Less to the mechanics of the job than enthusiasm. The exemplary professional is always the one who gives body and soul, totally and unreservedly, to the joys and passions of the task.
You pull up the roots to see if the flower is still growing
Most of us grew up with the aphorism “Patience is a virtue.” But in fundraising, impatience is equally virtuous. The successful professionals are itchy by nature. They don’t suffer easily standing still or treading water. They have a low tolerance with the pace of their program and its progress.
Nothing is more important than integrity
Integrity is the sine qua non in our business. It is everything. It involves a moral imperative deep inside us. It’s always there and always non-negotiable. Integrity alone is no assurance of the ticket to the top, but without it you can’t even begin the journey. Without it, you are a cannon without ammunition. You are nothing.
The late Jerold Panas was author of several books, including Born to Raise, Asking, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, Making a Case Your Donors Will Love, Mega Gifts, and The Fundraiser’s Measuring Stick.