Depending on your perspective, one of the most thrilling or terrifying realities of making a request for time, talent, and treasure is that you really never know the outcome. It can be a resounding “yes,” “no thank you,” or “I’ll need more time to think about it.”
By working hard and working smart, nonprofit leaders can increase the likelihood of a favorable response to a solicitation. But those of us who have seen the color of our hair change during the course of our careers in asking for gifts know there are no guarantees.
Attitude plays a huge role in determining how successful solicitors will be. This isn’t to be confused with cockiness, but rather a genuine sense of comfort in knowing that you are fully familiar with the art and science of fundraising, and you have a keen devotion to the mission or cause that you are serving.
“Mojo” is typically associated with an almost magic-like aura in which an individual has charisma, charm and confidence. When mojo is exhibited with humility and respect for others it can and will provide significant power.
This makes a compelling case that successful fundraisers possess and display mojo because they have earned it. There is no magic pill to take, rather it is a commitment to lifelong learning that is enriched by every solicitation of prospective donors — no matter what the outcome is.
Here 10 elements that culminate in fundraising success:
The thirst for professional development is never quenched. Every day should be welcomed as an opportunity to learn more about fundraising. Our profession and the world in which we carry it out is constantly changing. For example, the most dynamic component of American philanthropy is donor-advised funds (or DAFs) which totaled about $50 billion last year and continue to grow at an explosive rate. They were hardly part of our vocabulary at the beginning of the millennium.
We should be equally relentless in learning more and more about the mission, programs, and impact on the beneficiaries of our nonprofits. Everyone in the organization has something they can teach us, particularly those on the front lines of delivering programs and services. Never forget that all donors — no matter how wealthy — have to make hard decisions about how to allocate finite resources. And they’re not choosing between the good and the bad, but between the good and the good. The mojo fundraiser is constantly defining, refining, and elevating the story of what sets their nonprofit apart from other good causes.
Too many people assume successful fundraisers have “silver tongues,” and can slickly and eloquently persuade others to take action. Actually, the opposite is true. Successful fundraisers are extraordinary active listeners. Laura Fredericks, J.D., The Expert on the ASK, reminds us that during a productive meeting the donor speaks 75% of the time while the nonprofit leader only 25%. The active listening comes in because the effective solicitor knows how to guide the conversation and make every moment they are speaking count.
Successful fundraisers possess an unbridled sense of optimism in which more is always possible. The best nonprofit leaders are dreamers and dream big. They are not held back by a fear of scarcity. Their big dreams and visions of a better world are infectious and inspire donors as much as anything else to take swift and positive action.
Successful fundraisers have an intuitive desire to mentor and empower others to succeed. The returns are several-fold, including attracting others to support their cause and building a network of emerging leaders who can play increasingly significant roles in the future.
To borrow a sports analogy, they have a perpetual attitude of “give me the ball” during the big moments of the game. Rather than shirking responsbility during high-pressure situations, they welcome them because they have confidence that they are prepared to meet the challenge and the nobility of their causes provides additional powers and abilities.
Fundraising is aptly described as a combination of science and art. The more you know the science, the more creative you can be in practicing the art. Everywhere we look there is data to back up strategic choices and directions, but great fundraisers know when to take risks and gamble. This can take a wide range of forms such as increasing the amount of the ask or challenging donor prospects to consider completely new and different projects.
They are constantly on the hunt for new prospects. Every meeting with a board member, donor, volunteer or other supporter of the nonprofit includes a discussion of who else might be interested in our cause.
They never rush to judgments about prospective donors’ giving capacities, priorities, values, and interests. You can do all the third-party research in the world, but there is no substitute for direct interaction and input from the donor prospect. Ask enough of the right questions in a safe and open environment, and the donor prospect will tell you how much, when, and for what purpose they will donate.
As much as we hold them dear, principles, strategies, and best practices change over time. We were taught that major gifts could only be solicited face-to-face. Then the pandemic and social distancing realities came along. We discovered that major gifts could be solicited and gained screen-to-screen via video conferencing. This opened the door for nonprofit leaders to begin engaging with and soliciting prospects from a distance. A successful fundraiser is always keeping up with ways to meet their donors where they are.
In closing, there are no secrets for magic tricks to successful fundraising. It comes back to working hard and working smart. But there are certainly personality and character traits that position the solicitor for success. My list above is not exhaustive but can point professional and volunteer fundraisers in the right direction. Believe in yourself, believe in the nobility and merits of your cause, and finally, believe in the generosity of the folks you’re talking to, and you will find mojo on your side.
Jim Eskin's leadership roles span more than 30 years in fundraising, public affairs and communications in the San Antonio area. During his career, he established records for gifts from individuals at three South Texas institutions of higher learning. He enjoys training non-profit boards on fundraising best practices and overcoming the fear of asking for gifts. His consulting practice Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his fundraising workshops and webinars and provides the training, coaching and support services that non-profits need to compete for and secure private gifts. He has authored more than 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers and business journals across the country, and publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription. He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which was recently released and can be purchased here.