Create a Superstar Fundraiser in 2015

Originally published December 10, 2014

If there’s one theme to emerge from the conferences, research topics, and discussions of 2014 across the world of development it’s this: it’s very hard to find and keep talent. Demand exceeds supply, and competition for a shallow talent pool is only going to increase if trends continue. Development programs must start to look inward to create and build their own talent pipeline.

This process should involve looking at your staff, enhancing culture, growing team strengths, and setting priorities.

Ultimately, however, outcomes along the front line will be made by a handful of exceptional fundraisers. Elevating even one more individual to that tier of performance can dramatically impact your overall results.

Below is a brief overview of a process that development leaders can follow over the next 12 months to transform a high-potential individual into a high-performing fundraising star.

Find the Right Footing and Foundation
There is a core set of knowledge and expertise fundraisers must have to be successful. Make sure your team members have a firm foundation in the science and art of fundraising. Evaluate and create a plan to deepen their knowledge and grasp of critical areas, including:

  • Major donor types and motivations.
  • Giving vehicles and types of giving.
  • Institutional culture and priorities.
  • Portfolio management and optimization.
  • Strategic solicitation, and matching big ideas with high-capacity prospects.
  • Trends and new tools in development.

Get Moving
Part of what sets star fundraisers apart from their peers is the ability to manage time effectively and maximize their time out of the office meeting with donors and prospects. Focusing on growing an individual’s performance should include immediate, intermediary, and long-term action items. That way he or she can have clear avenues to put theory into practice in all steps of the process. Integrating all learning, mentorship, and self-development into existing responsibilities and activities will solidify knowledge and deepen understanding more readily.

Look for the Heart of a Star
When talking about growing your own superstars, focus on finding individuals who have the right qualities and potential to become your future highest performers. Look for individuals who:

  • Seek out challenges and new opportunities beyond assigned top prospects and goals.
  • Can speak and connect with people of all backgrounds and personality types.
  • Are inspired by your organization but have room for growth.

Perfect Technique and Strengthen the Right Muscles
The best athletes, musicians, physicians, and executives all have one thing in common: they practice a lot. More often than not that practice includes focused coaching and mentorship. Fundraisers, likewise, become more effective the more targeted practice they are able to have. Build a performance plan that not only increases classroom learning and expectations but allows for practice, shadowing, mentorship, and coaching by existing stars on your team and experts in the field so that your professionals can try new techniques and receive guidance on how to refine and hone their own personal approach with donors.

Guaranteeing a feedback loop during this process requires that managers and directors must be actively engaged and protective of time for the skill and strategy growth of the individual.

Foster Leadership and Collaboration
The biggest gifts require collaboration and multiple contact points, and often our top performers are expected to be team leaders as well. However, content areas for skill building often leave out collaborative strategies and good leadership and management. Similarly, we often wait too long to give individuals leadership opportunities. Leadership should be developed well before a promotion.

Part of what makes a fundraising star is his or her ability to lead internally as well as produce externally. In order to transform individuals you must make sure that they are given opportunities and tools for leadership. Find or let your team members identify new projects or initiatives in need of an owner. Include leadership skills and management in your expectations and performance evaluations of your team. For individuals to become leaders, they must understand their own management style and approach with peers, direct reports, and contacts across an institution and be able to translate that into success in actual programs and projects.

Focus on the Future
Developing the skills and improving the outcomes of performers is only as effective as your ability to retain them. Any program, formal or informal, that you develop must account for and incorporate the personal and professional goals of the team members involved. A curriculum for 2015 should, therefore, be focused on improving and multiplying fundraising results for the next 12–24 months AND act as a stepping stone for your fundraisers’ own ambitions for the next 5–10 years. Taking the steps described above helps communicate to your performers that you value them and their growth. Don’t shortchange your results by neglecting to communicate that you have a plan and place for them as they grow.

There will be valuable members of your team who may not be ready for the next step. That’s okay. As you work to grow your fundraising stars, keep these folks in mind—team building and performance across the bell curve should be a parallel priority for talent development this year.

It’s not an easy task, but, as the saying goes, something worthwhile is rarely easy.

BWF’s TalentED practice partners with non-profit clients to create superstars through competency-based, one-on-one coaching by seasoned experts. Contact us at training@bwf.com to learn more about coaching, workshops, or our talent management services.

Copyright © 2014 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

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4 thoughts on “Create a Superstar Fundraiser in 2015

  1. Pingback: When is turnover healthy? Four instances where “losing” frontline talent isn’t such a bad thing | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  2. Pingback: Something Worth Reading: Eleven Characteristics of Successful Fundraisers | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  3. Pingback: Something Worth Reading: Toxic Employees Hurt More Than Superstars Help | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  4. Pingback: The Authentic Fundraiser | Targeting Fundraising Talent

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