• Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

Fundraising as a Career: What Does It Take to Succeed?

Updated: Aug 24, 2019



Many individuals entering the profession for the first time and those hiring their first development staff person are often not certain what qualities to look for in a development professional. Often one hears that development is really just sales or marketing. The individual or organization about to embark into the world of development needs to understand that it is a profession in its own right. Being a good sales person or a good marketer may be helpful in fundraising, but there is far more to the career than sales and marketing. In his book, Born to Raise, Jerold Panas lists the top 10 qualities of a successful fundraiser as:

  • Impeccable integrity

  • Good listener

  • Ability to motivate

  • Hard worker

  • Concern for people

  • High expectations

  • Love the work

  • High energy

  • Perseverance

  • Presence

This is a tall order—what if you feel you do not have these qualities? Can they be learned? If so, how can you learn to cultivate them? Over the next few blogs, I’ll take a look at each one and see if there are things that can be done to cultivate what might seem, at first glance, like innate qualities.

Impeccable Integrity

Although professional integrity seems to be a quality that one either has or doesn’t have, there are things you can do to help develop your personal integrity. First know, understand, and support the AFP Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Practice. These documents will provide guidelines about what is ethical in the field of fundraising. Adherence to the Donor Bill of Rights is another step in assuring that the organization holds the donor’s interests above its own, and that you, the professional, hold the interests of the donor first, the organization second, and yourself last.

If you have a faith system in which you believe, it can be a help in developing your sense of morality and ethics. Every major religious institution holds certain moral principles which can help its members make sound ethical judgments.

You can also enroll in a class in ethics and attend AFP programs on ethics. AFP also has an ethics board that can answer questions about ethical issues. So, although integrity might seem to be an inborn quality, it can be developed by understanding ethics, morals and donors’ rights. One thing that can help you develop professional integrity is to follow the hierarchy of judging whether a specific action, including the acceptance of a major gift, values the donor’s interest above your interest, and even above the interest of the organization for which you work.

Be a Good Listener

Good listening is a quality that can be learned. A class in communications can help emphasize that listening is the most important part of good communication skills. I’ve always said that there may be a very good reason for human beings to have one mouth and two ears!

Active listening is important to good donor relations. Often a major gift can be secured by a solicitor whose listening skills have been honed. Listening for what the donor’s interests are is even more important than being able to persuasively explain the organization's case. Practice making "the ask" and truly listening to the donor through role playing with colleagues or by attending courses in making the ask. The most successful fundraisers listen to their donors. There is, in fact, an entire concept on this that calls for us to abandon moves management and pay more attention to donor moves.

Learn more about this concept at Fundraising the SMART Way, www.BristolStrategyGroup.com. Or visit www.LindaLysakowski.com for a link to this website. Take my four lesson online course at https://www.lindalysakowski.com/fundraising-as-a-career-course.

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