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The Skills You Need to Begin a Career
as a Professional Fundraiser

See also: Developing Effective Communication Skills

When most people approach a career search, they focus their attention on the private sector. It's where they expect the best opportunities to be, as well as where they'll find the highest salaries. But doing that ignores a wealth of fulfilling and rewarding careers in the global non-profit sector.

It's a sector worth an estimated $253 billion per year. And it's possible to find a career in it where you can work on projects and causes you feel passionate about, helping others all around the world. But getting your foot in the door of the non-profit world isn't easy.

To do it, one of your best options is to work toward becoming a professional fundraiser. That's because non-profits rise and fall based almost completely on their ability to fundraise. So if you can establish yourself as a skilled fundraiser, you'll never struggle to find a place in any non-profit organization. Here are the skills you'll need to do it.

Strong Interpersonal Skills

As you might expect, fundraising depends on your ability to develop and nurture relationships with existing and potential donors. The key is to know how to be persuasive without becoming aggressive, as well as how to be personally engaging in a way that encourages productive dialog. But that's not all.

To be an effective fundraiser, you'll also need to master:

  • Professional Etiquette - This all-encompassing skill includes all of the best practices that make for perfect interactions with others in a business setting.

  • Personal Appearance – Gaining the trust of a donor requires that they feel comfortable in all aspects of the fundraiser they're dealing with. That's why it's essential to present an impeccable and impressive personal appearance at all times.

  • Social Awareness – This includes the ability to perceive meaning in the actions of others. It includes skills like active listening and nonverbal communication like body language and vocal intonation.

With the right interpersonal skills, it's much easier to build strong donor relationships built on mutual trust and understanding. And that's one of the biggest keys to steady success as a professional fundraiser.

Storytelling Ability

In the world of non-profits, every organization has a story that explains the problems it seeks to solve and why its particular mission is so important. But with so many worthwhile missions out there competing for the same donors, success often comes down to who can tell the most compelling story. As a professional fundraiser, it's your job to do that.

That's why professional fundraisers need to have an innate storytelling ability, as well as complete knowledge of how to construct an effective narrative for donors. Specifically, they must be capable of convincing a potential donor not only that a cause is worthwhile, but that the individual donor will make a real difference by helping.

Experience Using Fundraising Software

Modern fundraising is as much about persuasion as it is about being in the right place at the right time. That's why most non-profit organizations now rely on a wealth of data and complex software that helps them use it to identify fundraising opportunities. And a successful professional fundraiser must be familiar with that software so they can get results.

At a minimum, they should have some experience with at least one of the popular fundraising software options.Because they all share similar concepts, the skills you build using one are transferable to all. On top of that, it's also helpful to know how to use a fundraising dashboard to keep track of overall performance and fundraising goals.



Financial Data Management and Protection Skills

Although many of the skills you need to be an effective professional fundraiser relate to convincing donors to lend their support, the job doesn't end there. You also have to have the skills it takes to be a good steward of donors' financial information. This is especially vital now as hackers have increasingly chosen to target non-profits to steal donor data.

As a professional fundraiser, you'll need to be aware of the best practices surrounding data privacy in the nonprofit industry. You'll also need to be aware of the tools and techniques donors use for financial fraud protection. This is because large donations frequently raise red flags with financial monitoring agencies and you'll need to know how to navigate the resulting issues to keep donations flowing smoothly.

Dedication to a Cause

Although it's not strictly necessary to become a successful professional fundraiser, it does help if you have a real dedication to the cause your work supports. This is because there's no better tool for fundraising than genuine passion, and there's no way to fake it. When potential donors feel how much your work matters to you, they'll be more apt to lend you their support.

So, even though dedication isn't a skill, per se, it's still a major factor that separates a good fundraiser from one that's truly great. And the good news is that there's a non-profit for almost any imaginable cause – no matter how small. So, if you choose to embark on a career as a professional fundraiser, you should have no trouble finding an organization that you'll be proud to support.


A Stepping-Stone to Non-Profit Success

It's worth noting that it's more than possible to build a successful and rewarding career as a professional fundraiser. But you can also use it as a stepping-stone to other roles within the non-profit world. This is because most non-profits favor candidates for executive roles that have fundraising experience in their past. After all, non-profits live on donations, so a major part of leading one revolves around keeping donor money flowing in.

But even if you don't have any intention of climbing the non-profit ladder, few careers provide a sense of purpose and mission quite like that of a professional fundraiser. And should you choose to pursue a career as one, you'll get the chance to make a difference doing something you'll be proud of. There aren't many other careers you can say that about – and now you know the skills you'd need to get started on the path to non-profit fundraising success.


About the Author


Philip Piletic closely follows the impact of technology on education, and its evolution from traditional to modern methods that include e-learning, courses, gamification, and others. He has also helped the Sydney-based IT & Business school in developing their IT courses.

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