What makes a great fundraiser?

The most successful fundraisers are crystal clear about what they want. Find your passion, your personal mission in life…and ask!

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What’s your Best Step in the Fundraising Process?

There’s more to fundraising than asking! Watch this and learn why your best step might instead be thanking, stewarding, research or cultivation.


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The T-Shirt Folding Fundraising Leadership Test

Take-away: Don’t overlook introverts when hiring your next development director


“You have the fundraising gene.”

I get that a lot from friends and acquaintances. What they mean is, “You’re extraverted, outgoing and not afraid to ask.”

They’re wrong.

I am an extravert, but my confidence and skill come from decades of professional experience. When I started my career, I was so scared I had to smoke a cigarette before I could summon up the courage to get on the phone to ask someone to volunteer. Not to give. Just to volunteer.

I know. Cigarettes in the office. This was decades ago.

Adam Grant, Wharton Professor and author of Give and Take, conducted an interesting experiment of introverted and extraverted leaders.[i] He asked college students to work in groups to see how many T-shirts they could fold in 10 minutes, using techniques that would predispose some participants to behave proactively.

Grant reported his findings. “The groups with proactive followers performed better under an introverted leader—folding, on average, 28% more T-shirts. The extroverted leaders appeared threatened by and unreceptive to proactive employees. The introverted leaders listened carefully and made employees feel valued, motivating them to work hard.”

We often assume the best development directors are extraverts, but are they?

According to an Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) study, 46% of the development professionals who responded were introverts;[ii] 54% were extraverts. That’s not an overwhelming difference. I’ve worked with superb fundraisers on both ends of the introversion/extraversion spectrum.

It’s increasingly hard to find and retain development directors. Underdeveloped, A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising,[iii] found development directors expected to leave their jobs, on average, in less than two years and that 40% expected to leave the field entirely. Once vacated, development director positions remained unfilled for 6 months or more.

Don’t overlook reserved candidates in your search for the perfect development director.

Remember the t-shirt folding experiment.




[i] Harvard Business Review, December 2010, Adam Grant, The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses.

[ii] Just Your Type…or Not? Robert Fogal, Ph.D., CFRE, Fall 2015 issue, AFP’s Advancing Philanthropy.

[iii] https://www.haasjr.org/resources/national-study-sounds-alarm-about-nonprofit-fundraising.


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Why Introverts Make Great Fundraisers

It doesn’t take an extrovert to make strong connections. Check out the introvert’s secret advantage to fundraising.

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Ask, Stop, and Listen

What’s the biggest mistake fundraisers make when asking for a gift? Answering their own question. See why.

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Always have a Backup

Preparation is key to successful fundraising. We do research for a reason. Make sure you’re not caught fumbling!

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Silenced in a multi-channel world

Take Away: Study examines trends in multi-channel fundraising but fails to mention a fifth of charities have no fundraising database at all!

The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s report “Fundraising in a Multichannel World: How the Explosion in Technology is Transforming the Science of the Ask,” examines how technology is changing the way fundraisers interact with their donors. Even as those surveyed embraced a profusion of channels, most say they’ll continue to invest in traditional fundraising.

Did you know?

  • More than 90% of respondents use the personal ask, more than any other tactic.
  • 70% of those surveyed found personal solicitation was more effective than in the past.
  • Peer-to-peer campaigns were increasingly successful for 50% of these nonprofits.
  • 87% still use, and 1/3 plan to increase their investment in, direct mail.
  • More than half expect to boost their use of social media.
  • Only 13% used mobile/text messaging as one of their fundraising channels.

Apparently, the more we communicate digitally, the more powerful live, in-person human contact becomes. Study participants found that employing a strategic mix of automated and in-person communication achieved optimal results.

Yet many nonprofits are mute, unable to speak in this multi-channel world.


Under-Developed, A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofits, A Project of CompassPoint and the Walter and Evelyn Haas, Jr. Fund, found 21% of all nonprofits and 32% of organizations with budgets of $1 million or less, have no fundraising database at all.

You can’t solicit donors in person, the most effective approach listed above, if you don’t have their contact info, know what their involvement is or how much they’ve given in the past. If you do manage to ask for and get a gift, any information you gain on your visit will be lost.   The same is true of other channels. You can’t send direct mail or manage peer-to-peer campaigns without Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) software. You can’t monetize your social media followers or ask by text. Heck, you can’t even send thank you notes without a database. And un-thanked donors rarely give again.

To survive in our hyper-competitive philanthropic market, your nonprofit must have a fundraising database.  So, what’s the problem? It’s not the price. There’s basic, cloud-based software that even small charities can afford. Rather, staff who are stretched to the limit just don’t have the band width to choose, install, structure, populate and manage a new fundraising database.

To overcome this, you need an unshakably determined champion. The trustee who brings it up at every board meeting and pays for it himself. The development director who structures it, persuading volunteers, interns and even family members to enter data. The program officer who enters the names of every person she serves, every day, no matter how exhausted she is.

How about you? Have you ever worked without a fundraising database? If you managed to get one, how did you do it? If your nonprofit once had a fundraising database, then regressed to using excel, how did it happen? I’d love to hear your stories, solutions and questions.

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Fundraising Training for Nonprofits

Set your board members for success!

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Show up ready for “Yes!”

Take-away: Do a self-scan before asking, and get happy so you show up anticipating a “Yes!” not bracing yourself for “No.”

You’re about to ask for a major gift. Your donor’s been thanked for their past giving and kept involved. You know about their family, their interests and their philanthropy. You have a project they’ll love at a cost they can afford. It’s time to ask, right?

Wrong. You’ve left the most important thing of all off your checklist.

Your state of mind. How are you feeling? If you’re tired or discouraged, you may sabotage your efforts. “They’ll hate this idea,” your inner voice whispers. “It’s too much money. I wish I didn’t have to do this. I look awful in this suit.” Don’t ignore your downhearted-self. Be kind to it.

Stop. Get happy. Then show up as the person ready to hear “Yes!” not the one expecting a “No.”

“How am I supposed to get happy?” you ask, and “Are happy people more successful askers?”

Yes, and yes.

Shawn Achor, author of New York Times Bestseller, The Happiness Advantage and one of Harvard’s most popular lecturers has demonstrated there’s a science to happiness, that it improves achievement in work and in life. His research identifies the following simple, free and proven ways to get happy:

1. Count your blessings-Write down one thing that happened in the last 24 hours for which you’re grateful. Do it every day. The 24-hour rule forces you to reflect on something new each time.

2. Journal meaning: It’s hard to be happy if you find your life meaningless. Start seeking meaning, and you’ll find it… in a cloud that reminds you of childhood, in the smell of new-mown grass, in your partner’s glance when you share a joke. We too often miss these moments. Write down one such experience every day, and you’ll become a happier person.

3. Perform a kindness with no expectation of return: I mentor younger colleagues, pick up trash when I take a walk and let stressed drivers precede me. If you start looking, you’ll discover opportunities to commit random acts of kindness. I find secret virtue yields an exquisite kind of happiness.

4. Meditate: If you are trained in meditation, do so regularly, and before you ask. If you don’t know how, just sit in a quiet space and watch your breath go in and out for two minutes. You can calm yourself when anxious. Meditate regularly and you’ll be happier, gain a sense of perspective and become more resilient.

5. FAB 15: Take a walk or exercise any way you like for 15 minutes. Take a walk in the fresh air, under a starry sky or on a city street full of fascinating people will make you happier. Working out seriously is best, but you don’t need to suit up or go to the gym. Just take a walk.

You may develop your own happiness rituals. I look at pictures of my children before tackling grant proposals and envision individual donors saying “Yes!” in twenty different ways. Whatever you do, stop and take a minute to see how you’re doing before asking.

Check out Shawn’s TED Talk, http://goodthinkinc.com/resources/videos/, and get happy!

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Ask donors who will say yes: The top 15 reasons why people give

Take-away: Ask those close to you before reaching out to big name funders with no connection.

You wouldn’t ask Bill Gates to cover your hospital bill…would you? If you needed financial help, you’d ask a family member or a close friend first. Charity begins at home. The same principle applies to fundraising. It’s the people around you, those already engaged or invested in your nonprofit who will give. Finding support for your organization should start from the center out, from those who know you best, to those who know you least.

Yet too often, we dream of a sugar daddy, a miraculous cure-all for our organization’s financial woes. “One big check from Bill Gates or Warren Buffet could solve all of our problems,” we muse. Volunteer board members see a name in the Wall Street Journal or on TV and think these celebrities are the answer to all of their nonprofit’s challenges.

However, soliciting support from big name funders with no connection is more likely to burn your staff out than to fill your coffers. Instead, deepen your relationships with donors who already know you. If you apply to a national foundation, it’s not unusual for them to vet your nonprofit through local funders. If your hometown foundations aren’t supporting you, it raises red flags for national funders. Conversely, if local funders say your organization is the best thing since sliced bread, national funders will be more interested in reading your proposal.

Whether you’re asking individuals, foundations, or corporations, get to know those in your community who care the most. Build your home-base. Strong community engagement will increase your influence and visibility, helping larger institutions to see your worth and increasing the likelihood that they will support you.

Why Individuals Give

What about individuals? The #1 reason people give is because someone they know asks them, and they want to help that person. If you start by asking those you know, you may find the list is so long, you never get around to asking strangers! Here’s why people give, with the reasons ranked from most to least compelling:

  1. Someone I know asked me to give, and I wanted to help them.
  2. I felt emotionally moved by someone’s story.
  3. I want to feel I can help, rather than feeling powerless in the face of need (especially in the case of disasters).
  4. I want to feel I’m changing someone’s life.
  5. I feel a sense of closeness to a community or group.
  6. I need a tax deduction.
  7. I want to memorialize someone (i.e., who died of a disease or a beloved parent).
  8. I was raised to give to charity- it’s tradition in my family.
  9. I want to be “hip”. Supporting this charity is in style (i.e., colored wrist bands).
  10. It makes me feel connected to other people and builds my social network.
  11. I want to have a good image for myself/my company.
  12. I want to leave a legacy that perpetuates myself, my ideals, or my cause.
  13. I feel fortunate (or guilty) and want to give something back to others.
  14. I give for religious reasons- God wants me to share my affluence.
  15. I want to be seen as a leader/role model.

Ask for gifts that satisfy donors’ desires. Some folks are motivated by just one or two reasons, others by many. Notice that a tax deduction is only sixth on the list. Most people give from the goodness of their hearts.

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