Something Worth Reading: Eleven Characteristics of Successful Fundraisers

IMG_4821On this blog we’ve touched on some international trends and what we’re seeing on the frontline, but today I stumbled upon a great find from our friends in the UK. This article, which is a recap of a presentation at the Institute of Fundraising convention, shows us some new emerging research on fundraising talent (consistent with what we’ve found before). Beth Breeze has been conducting a three-year research project at the University of Kent on fundraisers and success factors.

The full list of attributes is at the end of this blog post. However, what’s most interesting to me is the following statement by Breeze:

A lot of fundraisers said something similar; words like passionate, saying ‘it’s the best job in the world’ have come up a lot. It seems the only difference between major donors and major donor fundraisers is how much they have in their bank accounts.

We spend a lot of time looking at behavior and metrics that differentiate top performers from their peers, but sometimes we neglect this fundamental characteristic to even be an effective fundraiser in the first place: passion for the cause. The smoothest solicitation script will always pale in comparison to a less polished but 100% heartfelt appeal. Donors can sense who is being genuine with them and who is not. As salaries continue to rise dramatically and we pull in talent from the for-profit world it will do us well to remember to look first for that connection to the cause and then for strategic skills.

The 11 defining characteristics of Breeze’s study are also indicative of a love of people, community, and charity:

  • A high emotional intelligence, including being self-aware and aware of how others are feeling.
  • Formative experiences which mean they are comfortable asking – Breeze said fundraisers tended to come from backgrounds where it was completely natural to ask for help or to borrow a cup of sugar.
  • A tendency to engage with people and communities outside the day job – the study has found that 11 per cent of fundraisers sing in choirs and a fifth attend evening classes
  • A love of reading – the study found fundraisers were particularly likely to enjoy popular psychology books
  • An ability to read people and situations, and to understand body language
  • An enjoyment of giving – 87 per cent of fundraisers said they love to give gifts, and 32 per cent donate blood, compared to 5 per cent in the general population
  • A great memory for faces, names and personal details
  • An ability to be “Janus-faced” – fundraisers are charming, laid back and fun in front of donors, but ruthlessly well organised behind the scenes
  • A focus on organisational rather than personal success – fundraisers saw themselves as enablers and scene setters rather than visible leaders seeking recognition
  • A lack of egotism – Breeze said fundraisers understood that “the plaques are for donors, not askers”
  • A tendency not to describe themselves as fundraisers – Breeze said fundraisers rarely described themselves as fundraisers. She used the term “appreciation experts” to better describe what they do.

The article is worth a read and, for those of you in the UK, Beth is definitely a person to keep watching for new insight, trends, and strategies.

Side note: I will be with my colleague Josh Birkholz this week in Chicago, delivering the keynote session at the CASE Strategic Talent Management conference. If you will be there let me know! ( or @ChelseyMegli on twitter)


Having a Hard Time Finding Fundraising Talent? – It’s a global thing.

Over in the states we can get wrapped up in the idea that development trends are specific to the US. But the struggle to find and retain frontline talent transcends national borders.  As this article from The Guardian (UK) describes our friends on the other side of the pond see the same struggles that we do. Charitable organizations are struggling to fill open positions for major gift programs and retain the talent they have.  They set out looking for talent, but often can’t even find a reasonable number of viable candidates to choose from.



The pool of options in a MGO search – a few disinterested parties and some pigeons.


Part of the struggle lies with compensation; the strongest fundraisers are well aware of their endangered species designation and know that they can find salaries at a highly competitive level.  Another component, especially in the modern workplace, are the intangibles and flexibility of the workplace that drive job satisfaction.

However, even institutions with an ideal workplace and attractive compensation package in the UK are struggling because (and we know this well enough here in the US as well) there simply is not enough skilled, experienced talent to fill the many open positions in the development field. The numbers are simply not there. Nonprofit organizations are effectively trading open positions as DOs and MGOs shuffle between institutions.

So what are we to do? How do we work to fill this need with such a limited resource? The British Red Cross’s answer: Build your own team from scratch and abandon recruitment altogether.

“Astarita said the British Red Cross had a lot of success in recruiting new fundraisers though the use of unpaid interns. ‘We haven’t recruited a trust fundraiser for ages,’ he said. ‘They all come through trainee level. So we’re having to make our own fundraisers at the lower level and I think that’s increasingly going to feed through into mid ranks.'”

Of course building your own team has its own drawbacks. You run the risk of making a huge investment in human capital only to see those individuals move on a few years down the road to better paychecks, leaving you with yet another green group to train. Also, your fundraising culture might become isolated and miss out on best practices and connections that seasoned individuals from other institutions would bring. It’s a calculated risk that an organization as big as the British Red Cross can afford to make.


What do you think? Are non-profits in all countries facing the same situation? Where can we find these rare effective fundraisers?