In a previous post we discussed how frequently fundraisers do not fall into an even bell curve. It’s very difficult to find and keep those frontline fundraisers who excel and consistently bring in big gifts. A good first step in the process is thinking critically about how to identify a potential star fundraiser in the first place.
There are four consistent, personality-based attributes that make individuals more successful fundraisers:
- Strong communication skills: from picking up the phone to in person calls to drafting acknowledgement letters to preparing leadership for prospect meetings a fundraiser needs to excel at communication. Think about the sort of person who can talk about almost any topic – the individual who always finds something interesting to say. While communication skills can be taught and improved to a certain extent, those who have a natural inclination will always be a step ahead. Do not underestimate writing skills in this area as well. Written outreach and engagement with prospects will be included in almost any cultivation strategy and a poorly written or impersonal message can do more damage to a relationship and be harder to redress than a stutter in person.
- Independence: We like to talk about fundraising teams a lot. And, while development operations/advancement service, support staff, and management do provide huge contributions to the fundraising process, much of frontline fundraising is one-on-one. A development officer is frequently the only person in the room with a prospect. Moreover, no matter how many KPIs (key performance indicators) or metrics that a manager might set ultimately it is the DO that controls the management of her fundraising portfolio as well as scheduling and outreach to prospects. Effective fundraisers thus tend to be fairly independent and self-motivated. They should be comfortable with and capable of making strategic decisions while working with prospects without second guessing themselves or choosing inaction. (We can talk later about the fine line between finding independent workers and having to deal with fundraisers who take it too far and “go rogue”).
- Perceptiveness: The ability to read people and situations can never be underestimated. The entire discovery process is devoted to discovering information about/inclination of a prospect, and fundraisers can expect at least half of those details to come from non-verbal cues (indicators of wealth and interests from home/office decor, comfortable body language, excitement and allusions to interesting projects, etc.). Fundraisers then must be both strong talkers as well as engaged listeners and observers. They should be able to come out of a meeting able to not only recap the conversation that transpired but also estimate the prospect’s reactions to the meeting and have a sense of what would be the most effective next step.
- Versatility: Meetings with prospects can happen anywhere; the ideal setting is one where the prospect is at ease. Fundraisers must therefore be able to blend in at everything from sports events to hunting lodges to black tie events. This does not just apply to wardrobe. An fundraiser’s ability to adapt to the conversation topics and situations at hand help to create a bond with a prospect as well as demonstrate the value that your organization places on donors’ time and interests. While some content can be taught (understanding high level finance for example is usually vital for principal donors) the best fundraisers are those that can translate such knowledge readily towards enriching interesting conversations and scenarios.
The truth of the matter, however, is that innate ability and personality only gets fundraisers so far. The attributes above must be matched with a certain set of behaviors and management structures in order to create a top performer. There are many people with all four attributes who never progress beyond being mediocre development officers. In the next posts we will talk about the behavior that sets the best fundraisers apart as well as the structures that encourage accomplishment.
Want to learn more? Part II (Five behaviors of top fundraisers) and Part III(Six best practices top development shops offer to set fundraisers up for success) are now up!