The 6 Essential Skills Every Fundraiser Needs for this Pandemic
Back in 2017, I wrote a post about The Eight Essential Skills for Success in Fundraising. Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether those same skills are the ones needed now, during this global pandemic. I made a list of the six most important ones for right now, without looking back on my old post.
Here are the ones that I felt were most important for our moment in history:
With the market downturn, organizations that are desperate to close gifts on a timeline will inevitably lose out. Fundraiser’s that can be patient will be able to give donors the space and time they need to make the largest possible gift to the causes they care most about. Patience does also require that you have systems for following up later too.
Fundraisers (and fundraising teams) that are stuck in a 20th century mindset and 20th century models of leadership will get left behind in the seismic cultural changes that this pandemic is causing. If you believe people working from home must be managed with a heavy hand and even heavier metrics, your turnover is going to be terrifying. If you are resistant to trying new things such as virtual events or Zoom donor meetings, you are doing your organization a great disservice.
Those who do not lead with compassion and true concern and care for those they serve, their employees, and their donors will be quickly eliminating from donors’ list of philanthropic priorities. As the saying goes, troubles make us more of what we already are. If your institution was not truly putting people first, it will plainly obvious now and it will not be flattering.
For the love of all goodness in this world, be a real person. You know who they are at conferences, the fundraisers who would probably have been great used car salespeople. Those folks who show little to no vulnerability or realness in their approach. Those folks might be able to glad-hand their way to some gifts in the pre-pandemic world, but few savvy donors will have time for the shenanigans of those types now.
Resiliency is always among my top qualities for a great fundraiser. One of my favorite interview questions is to ask folks about a time they failed. This is not to put them on the spot and expose a weakness but to see how they handled that failure. Did they get back up and try again? Did they learn from the setback? Only those who can fall off the bicycle, get back up and try again will succeed in this new reality.
Confidence in the Worthiness of your Organization's Mission
More than any of these, if the fundraiser does not have a deeply rooted sense of the worthiness of the organization and its mission, they will not succeed. So many institutions are floundering and wondering whether they should even be fundraising right now. If your mission was vital before, it is vital now. Those you serve are counting on you.
For comparison, my previous, pre-pandemic list of essential skills included:
It isn’t truly that much different.
Sincerity and resilience appear on both lists. Integrity and manners are both deeply related to compassion in my opinion. Not to mention, adaptability is very much intertwined with curiosity. Writing, conversation and listening skills are the way that you communicate those other qualities to others. Though it seems counter-intuitive, I think tenacity is a match for patience because you must have good systems in place for following up with donors over several months and perhaps years.
I caught up with an old fundraising buddy of mine yesterday, Markus Jones, who told me that one of his favorite interview questions is: “Tell me about your worst donor visit ever.” I’ve never asked that one, but I can see the appeal.
Much like my question about failure, this question provides a platform for seeing how the fundraiser handles adversity. Do they do so with sincerity and integrity, or do they bend to the will of the donor (who might not be acting appropriately)? If the conversation went poorly, did the fundraiser learn from that and mitigate the situation afterward, showing resiliency? At all times, did the fundraiser move forward in confidence, knowing how to represent the mission of their institution, despite challenges?
I hope we can all ask ourselves these questions and cultivate these skills and qualities in our work as we move into the days ahead.
To that end, I’ll continue to provide information and resources here on Real Deal Fundraising so the professionally curious can get the ideas they need to succeed as fundraising professionals, despite the challenges we are facing.
Did I overlook an essential pandemic fundraising skill? What would you add to this list? Comments and questions are, as always, welcomed and encouraged!
PS - If you liked this post, you might also like these:
PPS - Want to use your time isolating at home to become an All-Star fundraiser? Join me for my new course, All-Star Annual Giving. Registration is open! All-Star Annual Giving is a fully online 12-week course with 9 modules covering all areas of annual giving strategy and execution. If you want to roll into the semester with a fully-fledged plan to raise more money than you've ever raised before in your annual giving programs, you need to be in this course.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.