Eleven characteristics of successful fundraisers revealed at IoF National Convention

10 Jul 2014 News

Emotional intelligence and being able to read people and situations are among the top characteristics that make successful fundraisers, according to academic research revealed yesterday.

Emotional intelligence and being able to read people and situations are among the top characteristics that make successful fundraisers, according to academic research revealed yesterday.

Beth Breeze, director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, presented early findings from her three-year project, The Formation of Fundraisers: the Role of Personal Skills in Asking for Money, at the Institute of Fundraising’s National Convention.

They included a list of 11 personal characteristics and traits that she has discovered so far in the kind of people who make a career out of asking for money.

These include:

  • A high emotional intelligence, including being self-aware and aware of how others are feeling.
  • Formative experiences which mean they are comfortable asking – Breeze said fundraisers tended to come from backgrounds where it was completely natural to ask for help or to borrow a cup of sugar.
  • A tendency to engage with people and communities outside the day job - the study has found that 11 per cent of fundraisers sing in choirs and a fifth attend evening classes
  • A love of reading - the study found fundraisers were particularly likely to enjoy popular psychology books
  • An ability to read people and situations, and to understand body language
  • An enjoyment of giving – 87 per cent of fundraisers said they love to give gifts, and 32 per cent donate blood, compared to 5 per cent in the general population
  • A great memory for faces, names and personal details
  • An ability to be “Janus-faced” – fundraisers are charming, laid back and fun in front of donors, but ruthlessly well organised behind the scenes
  • A focus on organisational rather than personal success - fundraisers saw themselves as enablers and scene setters rather than visible leaders seeking recognition
  • A lack of egotism – Breeze said fundraisers understood that “the plaques are for donors, not askers”
  • A tendency not to describe themselves as fundraisers – Breeze said fundraisers rarely described themselves as fundraisers. She used the term “appreciation experts” to better describe what they do.

The Leverhulme Trust-funded study, which is in its second year, has involved 30 in-depth interviews and a major survey of some 1,000 UK fundraisers, which the Institute has promoted to its members. 

“I’m looking at the personality and skills of fundraisers; are they innate or can they be taught?” Breeze said. A book of her full findings is due to be published in 2016.

Breeze said being ‘likeable’ was a major characteristic of fundraisers. She said a common characteristic among major donor fundraisers was to be fun and get on well with donors, but to pay fierce attention to detail behind the scenes.

Breeze, a former fundraiser who produces the annual Coutts Million Pound Donor report, said people who give £1m donations say they do it because they enjoy it.

“A lot of fundraisers said something similar; words like passionate, saying ‘it’s the best job in the world’ have come up a lot. It seems the only difference between major donors and major donor fundraisers is how much they have in their bank accounts.”

Breeze compared fundraisers now with the ‘new philanthropists’ who emerged in the early 2000s and are likely to be those who have made their own fortunes and want to be actively engaged in their giving.

“The new fundraisers have the backgrounds, skills and attitudes to raise funds from the new rich,” she said.

Rather than ex-military types who fell into fundraising by accident, fundraisers now make a conscious choice to enter the profession, she said. In particular, she said there are more women in the profession. And she said fundraising is now professionalised and evidence-based rather than amateur and voluntary.

It is now important to be able to make connections with wealthy people from a variety of backgrounds, she said, whereas previously fundraisers were well-connected with the ‘rich set’.