10 Core Personality Traits of Effective Fundraisers
When I first became involved with fundraising some 25 years ago, it was more of a career that one fell into by chance. Personally, I was introduced to the world of development through an internship and quickly discovered that there were a lot of things I liked about the work, and it was a good match for my personality.
Today, I see many more people making a conscious choice to become a fundraiser and seek out nonprofit missions that they are passionate about. If you are considering a possible career in this field, I would say that having a passion for the work is one of the most important factors you should consider. On top of that, it is important to reflect on whether or not your personality, strengths, and weaknesses might make you a good fit for the field. Consider the following character traits listed below.
Top 10 core personality traits and key qualities of an effective fundraiser:
1. Genuinely interested in people
People desire authentic connections. Take the time to learn about your donors, co-workers, and volunteers on a personal level.
Mission-driven organizations attract a vibrant, passionate group of staff and supporters who believe in making an impact. Everyone has a unique story to tell about what brought them to this work. The best fundraisers are deeply curious about other individuals who, like them, are drawn to this cause.
By developing strong connections with other people, you can contribute to building a sense of community and camaraderie throughout the organization. That strong sense of community raises team morale, motivates people, and facilitates investment and engagement in the organization’s future.
2. Strong instincts about people
When it comes to fundraising, timing and having an intuition about how a person feels about your mission is critical. Asking for a large gift can be daunting. If you’ve been listening to your donors and connecting with them, you can pick up signals to know how likely they are to make a gift.
Trusting your instincts and knowing when to ask for a gift or when not to) is a part of the process. If you ask without doing your research, or at the wrong time, without first building enough of a strong connection to your mission, you may inadvertently create awkwardness that makes the prospective donor less likely to say “yes”.
Persistence is important, but being aggressive can put people off. When making an ask, you’ll need to give prospective donors space to take time to respond, while you observe their body language and voice. While some of the signs that a donor may be ready to give can be learned with practice, highly perceptive people are best at picking up on these signs. By making sure you’re taking the time to pay attention, you’ll have more success as you go!
3. Highly organized
The most effective fundraisers are highly organized. Fundraising involves a variety of skills that require a high level of detail: planning, scheduling and organizing visits with potential donors, effective and thorough follow-ups, managing complex donor information, and tracking progress toward goals.
Nonprofit budgets are often small, so fundraising staff can expect to wear many hats. Time management is key – by being organized you will use your time more efficiently and be more productive.
4. Effective communication skills
Communication is an important part of the fundraising process. Being a strong writer and public speaker is essential when you represent any nonprofit organization.
Fundraisers should be able to speak to many prospective donors comfortably, confidently, and convincingly about why they should support the organization and the impact that gifts can have.
Whether working on a capital campaign or annual fund, fundraisers also often have to write letters and messaging that represent the organization to donors. Writing should be warm and compelling, helping to concisely convey the essential work your organization is doing, while helping donors build a personal connection to your mission.
5. Good listener
Effective communication is not just speaking well but includes listening carefully. Being able to listen to your donor’s needs and interests will go far in building relationships and aligning their interests with your mission. Part of your job is observing and taking mental notes when you speak to a prospect or donor. Remembering small details helps to build relationships, and individuals appreciate it when you take the time to hear what they are saying.
6. Able to work with many types of people
Being able to connect with many types of people is a rare quality. You must be relatable to many types of people ranging from your organization’s clients, donors to volunteers.
People of many backgrounds may be driven by your mission. Embrace differences! Diversity in your community leads to diverse perspectives. Fundraisers should stay open-minded and flexible to new and differing points of view.
There are many styles of communication that different individuals prefer. The key to success as a fundraiser is taking the time to learn how others communicate and being able to adjust your approach based on individual preferences.
7. Integrity and follow-through
Having integrity in your work is an essential trait of an effective fundraiser. Whether or not you currently belong to the AFP, the AFP Code of Ethics is a standard all fundraisers should review and hold themselves to. Fundraisers should be honest, dedicated, and put the organization’s mission first.
Having integrity also includes having a strong ability to follow through. Doing what you say you will do builds trust with co-workers, donors, and board members. By being reliable and exceptionally consistent, your colleagues and board members will trust your ability to handle important work, and donors will trust you and the organization.
8. Emotional intelligence
Many fundraisers frequently find themselves facing delicate interpersonal dynamics. With a diverse group of donors, volunteers, and staff who are all passionate about the same cause, many will become emotionally invested in the work that you’re doing. And since differences of opinion are an inevitability, it’s important to be able to express these differences carefully.
Having a sense of timing and diplomacy in how you handle these day-to-day situations is essential. Fundraisers should be able to keep a cool head and draw on the personal connections they’ve made to work to build common understanding.
Nonprofit work often draws people who are naturally optimistic, and who believe in the importance of making an impact through their work.
Optimism is also a key factor in building the confidence required to make successful solicitations. As fundraisers, there are times when you might hear more “no’s” than a “yes”. This can make it challenging to stay positive about your ability to reach your goals. Remember, not everyone is currently in the position to give, or the timing might not be right for them or you may not have yet built a strong enough level of connection to your organization. You’ll have to learn to take each “no” in stride and know an opportunity for success is around the corner.
The odds are that eventually, you will make a successful solicitation as long as you keep going. And by cultivating donors consistently, you may find that sometimes a prospect who declines to give this year may give a large gift several years later.
10. Driven by numbers and results-oriented
While interpersonal and communication skills are essential, fundraisers must also be highly attuned to the organization’s fundraising goals and understand how to analyze results to inform future fundraising strategies.
Many nonprofits’ ability to operate rests on how effective their fundraising is, and monitoring fundraising data is essential. Strong fundraisers are highly aware of the importance of their work and strive to meet or exceed their individual fundraising targets. It is necessary to be diligent about updating donor records and having a CRM that you understand, because the most up-to-date information will help ensure that any reporting is accurate.
It is also important to analyze the success rates of different solicitation strategies and messaging. Data can show you when you may need to change your approach. As technology constantly evolves, new tools are being developed that help to better predict a donor’s likelihood to give. While the fundamentals of fundraising will remain, the most effective fundraisers are open and eager to embrace technology and try new approaches.
These traits are just a starting point - many fundraising skills can be honed and improved over time. If you join this field, it will be one of the most challenging and rewarding careers you can have. Seek out mentors, relationships with other fundraisers and with practice, as a new fundraising professional one can develop the ability to build relationships with donors and successfully solicit gifts that have a powerful impact in the community.
If this sounds like you, fundraising may be a good fit for you! If you are interested in learning more, there are a number of fundraising networking groups in Chicagoland, including the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Chicago Chapter, or I encourage you to reach out to someone who has been in the field for many years and do an informational interview. You will find that fundraisers are some of the most generous people and fundraising is a career option worth exploring.
Originally published April 23, 2018. Updated November 6, 2023 with assistance from Alyssa Bray.
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