By Susan Ross.
Successful nonprofit leadership demands fundraising capability. Subject matter expertise and passion for the cause remain important parts of the nonprofit skill set, but leaders know it takes money to live into an ambitious mission. The best professionals build relationships that make clients, donors, staff, and others value and trust your role in their lives.
We see this expectation in our searches for executive directors and development officers, where Boards are clearly looking for a proven record of fundraising success.
What does that really mean? More than an impressive dollar total, it should recognize a pattern of actions and related results that meet the agreed upon goals. Certainly, a bit of luck may make an unexpected gift land in your lap, but more often the luckiest people are the ones who work the hardest, as my father used to say.
Can you teach yourself to be a better fundraiser? Absolutely. At moss+ross, we coach clients and lead trainings for staff and volunteers all the time. While this comes more easily to some than others, everyone can become better a fundraiser by nurturing a relationship of trust with donors and volunteers.
I recently read David Maister’s book The Trusted Advisor, which lays out a number of specific suggestions for building your personal skills in this area. The author makes it clear that one has to EARN trust by developing strong relationships built on genuine engagement, often over many years. But even on day one, our role is to help people develop a relationship with the cause, not just transact business. Great fundraisers take the long view, which starts with a sincere interest in their donors and what they want to accomplish. Then they execute the plan well: doing their homework, building a strategy, listening carefully, and responding with well-reasoned suggestions to help their donors make a difference. Because, of course, you do have to ASK.
Build this level of trust with your donors, and you will never need to beg for a gift. We are all motivated by a shared mission.