Searching for a donor-centered fundraiser

As I said on Friday, I am currently reading the book Co-Active Coaching as part of a business coaching certificate program. While digesting this text, it caused me to reflect back on Penelope Burk’s book, Donor Centered Fundraising. I think this is happening in part because when I read Penelope Burk’s book, I kept asking myself questions like “what would that look like in practice?” and “what skill sets would a donor-centered resource development professional need to possess?”.

I think some of the coaching material I’m currently reading fills in some of those blanks in my head, and I want to share those thoughts with you here today.

Chapter 5 in Co-Active Coaching talks about how one quality of a successful coach is “curiosity” and one skill set required to be curious is being able to ask powerful questions and dumb questions (which can also be quite powerful).¬† On page 79, the authors list a few example questions:

  • What does what you want look (or feel) like?
  • What about that is important to you?
  • What else?
  • What will you do and when will you do it?

I now see the importance of limiting the number of “Yes-No” and “Why” questions because these questions can be intimidating and limit discussion.¬†Likewise, I found myself thinking that open ended and naturally curious questions help deepen understandings and in turn deepen relationships.

If I was an executive director again and looking to hire a development professional with donor-centered fundraising skills sets, I suspect I would build a search process around finding someone with the following qualities:

  • listening skills
  • curiosity & engagement
  • action-oriented
  • life-long learner
  • authenticity
  • the ability to create accountability
  • connectivity & relationship building

Have you ever hired a donor-centered fundraising professional? If so, what qualities, characteristics, competencies and skill sets did they possess? What were some of the questions you used to tease these qualities out of your candidate pool? Please jump in and share.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653


  1. These are good traits to look for in a development candidate, Erik. I would add the following (not in any order)

    Ability to manage a donor relationship (balance goal- and process-orientation)
    Problem-solver (especially negotiating planned gifts)
    Honest and ethical

    1. Those are great qualities too and most likely important for ant resource development professional regardless of whether they are donor-centered or transactional. Thanks for the comment, Mike! As always — cheers.

  2. This is a very important topic and one I see too often overlooked because there is typically such a sense of urgency to get someone hired to “get money in the door” that quality (these traits described) is often replaced by quantity (years experience) because they know no other way.

    Speak to any donor and you will find most surely they value the quality over the quantity anyday..same goes for any business, I suppose. If you are going to invest in a product someone is selling, sure how many years experience the salesperson has is a plus, but if they are smothering you with all their experience and talking too much about why you SHOULD buy the products instead of finding out what you want in said product you are sure to buy from someone else who cares about why you are wanting that product and what you hope to use it for.

    Resource development is a very delicate process. Finding someone who can coddle the relationship of the investor prior to concerning of their own needs will go yards and years further than someone with years – sometimes outdated years -experience.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Teri! I think you’re right on target with the salesperson example. And I know you are one of the best at being donor-centered!

  3. Erik, I so enjoy reading your daily posts – really making me think! Do you think there is a priority on the traits you list? If a Person has some degree of all of those, should there be more weight on any of them? Action vs. listening? Authenticity vs. curiosity? I agree strongly with Teri’s comments also – the Friend has to know that we care about them as a person first, who is trying to match their interests and needs with what we may have to offer. Very good stuff today!

    1. Hey Vickki … truth be told, I think they are all important. The more of those traits you get in one person, the more of a complete RD professional they really are. However, I will say that it is important to look at whether or not your comprehensive resource development program is based on a “transactional fundraising” model or a “donor-centered fundraising” model. Many of the traits Mike Johnson listed in his comment to this blog post are important for all RD professionals regardless of which RD model your organization is operating on. Of the donor-centered traits I listed in the body of the blog post, I think there are a few that are absolutely necessary — listening, relationship building, curiosity and authenticity. I would not rank them because I don’t think someone can be “donor-centered” without any one of those four qualities.

    1. Elisa … I have tried a few different RSS-feed options but I am stuck. I am open to any advice or suggestions anyone can provide. I will ask my friend Marissa tomorrow when she comes over for dinner. Maybe she can help me out. Some people have clicked on the “comment” link to get to the RSS-feed option, but you may have done that and had no success. Can you share in more detail what you tried to do and the result (or lack thereof)?

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