December 2, 2021

Traits to Look For in Your Next Fundraiser

Fundraising has changed fundamentally. Here are traits to look for in your next fundraiser. 

We talk a lot about how the role of the fundraiser within the nonprofit sector has changed dramatically. Increased donor technology catalyzes increased professionalization of the industry. Now, it’s not enough for development officers to just have an expansive and generous network. Candidates now have to have a very specific skill set that encompasses both technical experience and more indefinable characteristics. 

Are you looking to increase your organization’s footprint through a strategic development hire? We talked with Peña Search co-founder Carlos Peña and search director Travis Hillier about the specific traits to look for in your next fundraiser. 

A strong résumé–with proof to back it up. 

The best candidates for fundraising roles have, at the bare minimum, three years of experience at a single organization. 

“Because it takes time to establish relationships and cultivate donors for major gifts,” Travis Hillier noted, “it’s rare that someone can accomplish a significant amount in this window.” 

Strong potential development officers come prepared with the facts and figures to back up their biggest successes. 

“I tell the fundraising candidates I work with to document the positive changes that they are bringing to their current organizations in quantifiable numbers,” Carlos said. “That is going to be their strongest case for their next employer.”

Experience with technology. 

The rise of technology has been one the defining catalysts for the changing nonprofit industry over the past decade. Customer Relationship Management software (CRM) enables even small advancement offices to keep detailed records of donor information and giving practices. 

Additionally, strong fundraising candidates are not only familiar with popular CRMs such as Raiser’s Edge or Salesforce. They are also able to utilize the full potential of these tools to create successful and strategic giving campaigns. 

“A well organized development office is constantly looking at the way that frequent donors are giving,” Carlos said. “Looking at year-to-year metrics helps fundraisers identify good donors as well as learn about the successes or failures of certain campaigns. Being able to analyze the data on a regular basis is extremely important.”

Strong communications skills. 

The nonprofit industry has moved far past the “friend-rasing” model of donor acquisition. However, there is one holdover of the era that remains incredibly important in today’s development officers: top-notch communication skills. 

“You have to be a good communicator,” Carlos said. “You have to go to the right people to fund a project and make a compelling case for why they should support your specific mission instead of something else. It’s about knowing what kind of information to provide and how to provide it effectively.”

Travis agrees that communication skills are key. Therefore, he advises that strong candidates work well with donors as well as mesh well with key staff within their organizations. 

“Donors oftentimes enjoy meeting with subject matter experts within an organization focused on a cause about which they are passionate,” he said. “Fundraisers’ ability to coach key internal stakeholders on their role in the fundraising cycle is essential.”

Firm knowledge of industry trends and shifts. 

In addition to the others, one of the traits to look for in your next fundraiser is extensive industry knowledge. In an ever-changing landscape, development officers need to be able to keep up with the latest and greatest giving strategies. 

“There has been a significant shift away from event or direct mail management to more of an emphasis on cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding decision-makers or individual donors,” Travis said. “Planned and blended gifts are becoming more popular, oftentimes requiring the specialized assistance of gift planning officers or administrators, not to mention any wealth managers or estate planners whom a donor may bring to the table.”

Additionally, donors have become more informed and particular about their causes in recent years. This requiries fundraisers to adapt to a more demanding donor base. 

“Donors have had to adjust to the new market and become wiser in the ways they give,” Carlos said. “Fundraisers have had to become wiser in their approach.”

Drive, energy & a (healthy) sense of competition. 

Sometimes, a line on a résumé can’t encapsulate one of the most desirable traits of a fundraiser. This is particularly true of one of the most important aspects of a fundraiser: a personality that is driven by the desire to secure a donor. 

“The new fundraisers are driven and strategic,” Carlos said. “It takes a lot of people skills as well as a competitive personality. Very successful fundraisers get fired up by the challenge of closing the gift. The thrill is to be able to close the deal, and it takes a specific type of personality.”

Are you looking for your next fundraiser? Consider working with Peña Search to find your ideal candidate.