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The “Secret” Skills to Being a High-Performing Fundraiser

I am often asked what skill or trait is most needed to be a high-performing fundraiser. I have been working in the field of philanthropy and fundraising for more than 21 years, for organizations that range from institutions of higher education to healthcare organizations. And over the years, my answer has stayed consistent.

The first skill development officers need to have is confidence. As front-line fundraisers, we are often the representatives of our respective institutions. Whether it’s intentional or not, donors and prospects see us as the face and voice of our organizations. This is why it’s so critical to maintain a confident nature and be the best outward face possible.

Developing a strong sense of confidence is also critical because – let’s face it – we receive a lot of rejection in our field. That is the nature of fundraising. We need to learn to not take this rejection personally.

My second answer to what trait is needed to be a high-performing development officer is polite persistence. Fundraising is not for the faint of heart. It takes an average of 11 outreaches for a prospect/donor to respond “yes” to a meeting. This translates to a balancing act between polite and persistence to get to a “yes.”

However as our industry continues to evolve, I’m finding there are two more critical skills that are becoming increasingly important to be a high-performing fundraiser. Those attributes are focus and discipline.

Many development officers I’ve worked with over the years did not know how to develop focus and discipline when it came to fundraising. They were hired into fundraising positions to build relationships that lead to meaningful solicitations. Yet when it came to developing a system to consistently do the work and make progressions, they lacked the skills to make this happen. Focus and discipline are often neglected at professional development conferences and I believe it is one key reason why our industry faces such high rates of turnover.

In order to become a high-performing fundraiser, you need to look at what’s holding you back from succeeding. Is it a fear of rejection? Is it failure to be persistent and follow through? Or perhaps it is, quite simply, that you need someone to help you grow your confidence and show you how to focus your development efforts.

This is where ongoing training and support is critical in our field. In order to survive and thrive in today’s development climate, organizations must ensure development professionals receive coaching and guidance on even the most basic fundraising skills. Investing in advancement training is not only a retention tool; it is critical to create long-term, high-performing front line fundraising teams.

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