The Goldie Company

Parley: April 2014 - Crafting the Perfect Fundraiser

Crafting the Perfect Fundraiser

Professional fundraisers often stumble upon the non-profit sector. They come with varied, colourful, and sometimes seemingly unrelated backgrounds. Think of Jim Hilborn, for instance, who found his passion for fundraising after spending several years as a professional engineer. Goldie’s own George Stanois left school with a geography degree. And Georgia Clarke, the first recipient of the Kevin Allen Scholarship for Student Excellence in Fundraising, came to the sector from a career in university administration.

While diversity is an asset in this profession, however, there’s no doubt the most celebrated and successful fundraisers share a distinct set of qualities and skills.

After more than 40 years in the sector, fundraiser Steve Thomas knows what’s good. We asked the Chairman and Executive Creative Director of Toronto-based Stephen Thomas Ltd to close his eyes and dream up the perfect fundraiser. The following traits, he says, are some of the best a fundraiser can possess.

•    Empathy. A good fundraiser has the ability to understand and share the feelings of the people around him or her, especially those close to the cause, but a great fundraiser also translates those feelings into action. “You have to be a champion of the cause, and you have to motivate others to do the same,” Thomas says.

•    Persistence. For Thomas, fundraisers must have a Type A personality. “These fundraisers are pushy in some ways, but they’re also trying to move the agenda,” he explains. Mix a sense of optimism with that persistence and you’ve got a great combination, especially when you’re asking for major gifts. These fundraisers never believe “no” is an acceptable answer. “To them, no means ‘not now.’”

•    Organization. From direct mail to legacy gifts, fundraising is a multi-faceted job, and only the best can keep everything straight. “Keeping on top of these demands requires a great deal of planning,” Thomas says. “Not only that, but your team must be on the same course.”

•    Creativity. Though fundraising requires organization, following a plan doesn’t preclude a little innovation. “Don’t always do things by the book. Look at new ideas and approaches—go beyond the tried and true.” Thomas suggests that there’s room for creativity within the principles of systems like moves management.

•    Likeability. This one works both ways—you’ve got to like people, and people have to like you. “Every step, from shaking hands at a party to making big asks one-on-one, requires you to be comfortable with others and actually enjoy the process,” Thomas advises.

Fundraisers have big shoes to fill; it’s clear. Success includes a good mix of these qualities, but Thomas says this work can never be done alone. Building a strong team with common goals and communicating regularly with peers is essential, he says.

So, what does a perfect fundraiser look like to you?