I interview many potential candidates for fundraising positions, particularly early to mid-career professionals. We are very much in a seller’s market these days for talent. Good for employees. Challenging for employers. So I tend to favor younger professionals, on the way up the ladder in career trajectory, rather than on the way down, and often without the bad habits and stubborn assumptions of the more senior folks. After all, It is a millennial world. Soon face tattoos will be no biggie for fundraising staff. Onward we go.
But what makes a good fundraiser ? Generally I am looking for someone disciplined, coachable and self-motivated. Former athletes, dancers and classically trained musicians fit this bill, understanding the necessity of practice for mastery (it really does take 10,000 hours to be a great fundraiser). I have a bias against both blowhards who think they know everything (and want to tell you all about it) as well as sycophants who suck up to the bosses or board chair.
What makes a good fundraiser? Love, first and most importantly. Love for others, for service, for teamwork, and for the good works we do in the non-profit sector. I have interviewed, and so, probably, have you, lots of corporate types ready to downshift to non-profit work as an opportunity for better work/life balance. Forget about it, Mr. VP of Sales. You have no idea how under resourced and hard working we get to be on our side of the fence. We fundraisers are workers. Hard workers. Passionate, tireless workers.
It is a tricky business being a confident fundraiser but also a humble one. Our success, after all, is a reflection of other’s generosity and the efforts of those came before us. We are the tips of the spear of institutional success, and humility and good humor are critical, win or lose. No one likes arrogance.
Love, Humility, and what else? Fire. That’s the final ingredient. Fear is the dominating theme of our civic life these days, from the Presidential election to our entertainments. In our non-profits, this manifests as a Fear of Failure. It is why we don’t innovate, are resistant to change, and it is why we don’t Ask.
Ask a successful fundraiser how many times they’ve been told No. Constantly, if one is doing the job with Fire. It is a horrible feeling to fail, to be rejected in any circumstance. But that’s our job. It is okay to be afraid of rejection as long as you act anyway. An old time fundraising mantra is that if a prospect says, “Yes” too quickly we maybe should have asked for more. There is truth in that statement. Fortune really does favor the bold.
A Fundraiser with Fire is someone who will Ask. Ask for the gift. Ask the volunteer to make an introduction. Ask for help. Fire is asking three prospects, so that one will say Yes. That means hearing No two of every three times. And that’s okay. Hearing “No” smacks the ego every single time. Anyone who claims they don’t mind hearing not is lying. But one yes in three can lead to heroic outcomes. The .333 hitter is going to have a long major league career.
A Fundraiser with Fire has the courage to influence others, to invite participation and to seek common ground. She owns fundraising goals, to the penny. She takes career risks and asks for what she deserves in salary negotiations. She asks and asks and asks, with pride and purpose. She does not eat lunch at her desk.
What sort of Fundraiser do you want to be?
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