Are fundraising volunteers born or are they made?

I have often wondered if there is an answer to the question posed in the title of this blog post. I think it is almost as classic as the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” However, unlike the chicken question, the fundraising volunteer question haunts fundraising and non-profit professionals every single day. However, I think I might have some good news after attending an annual campaign kickoff meeting a few weeks ago for one of my favorite non-profit organizations.

Before sharing the good news, I think it is important to start by looking at the question, “What traits and skill sets does a good fundraising volunteer possess?” While I probably could’ve developed this list from my 15 years experience of working with fundraising volunteers, I decided to be lazy this morning and found a great online article by Nikki Willoughby at titled “The Job Description of a Fundraising Volunteer“. The following are a few traits and skill sets that Nikki pointed out:

  • Good communicator
  • Persuasive
  • Mission-focused
  • Keen understanding of the agency they are fundraising for
  • Computer skills and general understanding of how to use the telephone (I am not kidding . . . I encourage you to click the link and read the article for yourself)
  • Being an extrovert helps
  • Salesmanship skills
  • Goals-oriented and driven

I believe Nikki generally hit the nail on the head. The only thing I would add to her laundry list is that an effective volunteer fundraiser must value the ideas of “philanthropy” and “charity”. Most importantly, they need to be a current donor to the non-profit organization to which they are asking others to make a charitable gift.

Unfortunately, this list doesn’t help us answer the question “Are fundraising volunteers born or made?” because some of the skills and traits cannot be taught such as being an “extrovert”.  (Note: I happen to know a number of “introverts” as defined by the Myers Briggs personality test who I consider good fundraising professionals. So, I’m not sure if being an extrovert belongs on Nikki’s list. However, since I am an extrovert, I’m going to pass on arguing the point)   😉

As promised in the introduction, I have some good news for those of you who think you can train anyone to be a good fundraising volunteer.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to serve as an annual campaign fundraising volunteer for one of the non-profit organizations in my community. At the kickoff meeting, I bumped into someone I first met 12 years ago. In an effort to “protect the innocent,” I will refer to her as “Jane”.

When I first met Jane in 2000, she was perhaps one of the most reluctant fundraising volunteers that I’ve ever met in my life. I must admit that she doesn’t even come close to fitting that description today.

As I approached the building where the kickoff meeting was being held, we accidentally bumped into each other, hugged and exchanged warm greetings. And then it happened  . . . before I even knew what hit me, she launched into a fundraising pitch. The case for support wasn’t for the organization who was hosting the kickoff meeting. It was for a local church who was trying to raise enough money to buy a LCD projector for their sanctuary. (Note: this wasn’t even for the church she belongs to!!!)

Yep, you guessed it . . . in short order she had me signing a pledge card.

Fast forward through the meeting and training, and Jane proudly shared a story with me about a solicitation she made last year with a very reluctant donor. Without breaking confidences, let me just say: “she came, she saw, and she conquered”. She ended her story by sharing what she thought was the secret to her success:

Don’t take NO for an answer
Refuse to leave their office until you get the signed pledge card

I can only imagine how many of my fundraising friends who are reading this blog post right now are wincing. Please know that I’m not sharing this story as a “best practice”. Instead, I am point to it as PROOF . . . I am more convinced after seeing Jane’s transformation that fundraising volunteers are “made” and not “born”.

Twelve years ago, Jane had a tough time even thinking about asking others for a pledge to the annual campaign. Today, she is a grizzled fundraising veteran who won’t take NO for an answer.

I am one of Jane’s biggest fans! However, I need to remember to never invite her into my home office.  LOL  😉

So, what do you think? Are fundraising volunteers born or made? Do you have any personal stories that you’d like to share that proves your point? Please scroll down and use the comment box.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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