Mastering the “Soft Skills” of Fundraising

Social skills matter.

Kindness and graciousness will take you far!

Appearance matters. Graciousness matters.

How much do they matter to a master fundraiser?


I gave a brand new presentation on “Mastering the Soft Skills of A Fundraiser: What They Don’t Teach You in Fundraising 101” last week at the AFP Toronto Fundraising Congress.

And it was quite a hit.  Fundraisers, both new and experienced, ate this stuff up.

(I got to be totally candid and not politically correct!)

What’s at stake here?

If you are oblivious to your soft skills, you’ll miss important cues that can have everything to do with your career and your ability to raise money.

Your job is at stake. And so is your organization’s reputation, since you are representing it when you are out in front of people.

Don’t be oblivious like Winnie the Pooh

Your organization’s mission is at stake, and the amount of money you can raise is at stake.

So maybe, just maybe, you want to study what they don’t teach you!

Five “Soft Skills” of master major gifts fundraisers:

1. Social awareness.

You need to have a good radar. Where’s your attention? On yourself? or on the other guy or gal (your donor)?

If you are self-conscious and nervous, you’ll totally miss the cues from your donor.

And if you are oblivious (we all know these people) you miss the cues as well.

Things like your donor’s body language, eyes, fidgeting, tone of voice – they tell you worlds of information about her interest in your cause.

Your donor will tell you what the next steps are.

But only if you are aware of both spoken and unspoken messages.

You’ll never raise any money if you can’t totally focus on the donor, and get over yourself.

2. Ability to build a trusting relationship.

Building a trusting relationship with a donor is a delicate dance.

How do you build a trusting relationship with a donor?

The most important thing is to do what you said you’d do.

Follow up when you said you would.

Get them what they asked for when they asked. Circle back promptly to them.

And be on time.

Nothing says disrespect more than tardiness. Keeping a donor waiting is NOT cool!

And get out the door when you said you’d leave!

And how do you know when to press forward and when to back off from your donor?

To know when to go away and when to come closer is the KEY to any lasting relationship. Domenico Cieri Estrada

3. Social skills.

Social skills are wildly important.

The ability to come across as polished and gracious is an essential skill. (Moving up in business usually depends as much on this as on your ability.)

In fact, a friend who’s a very successful restaurateur said recently to me:

“In this economy, it’s all social skills.”

What he means is the ability to be likable. To make people feel good. To make them comfortable.

Make it all about the donor and not about you, and you’ll never go wrong!

Pleasant small talk is an essential skill.

The art of “small talk.”

I taught my kids about small talk when they were in elementary school. They learned to how to have polite conversations with adults.

Making pleasant conversation is a learned skill.

Again, make it all about the other person and they’ll think you are a brilliant conversationalist!

4. Good manners.

What is the essence of good manners?

  • Kindness and consideration
  • Keeping your cool (decorum)
  • Putting others at ease

Good manners can get you out of sticky situations.  You can just ignore the offensive behavior as if it never happened. : )

Table manners can be a minefield for many people!

And good manners can help you dig yourself out of a hole.

We’ve all put our foot in our mouth with a donor before.

From misspelling their name, to not giving them the attention they think they deserve, we have lots of opportunities to offend delicate egos.

Good manners will save you time and time again.

5. Etiquette.

The Dali Lama once said, “Know what the rules are, so you can break them properly.”

You need to know the basic rules of etiquette:

How to make a proper introduction, when to pick up your fork at the table, when to hold the door, when to stand when someone comes in the room, where the knife goes, which fork to use, where the elbow belongs, when to wear white, how to pay a compliment.

You need to pay attention to your appearance:

What’s the proper role of makeup, extreme fashion, showing skin, jewelry, stubble, colors?

What is appropriate in your social life may not be appropriate in front of a major donor.

The essence of marketing tailoring your message to suit the needs of your audience.

A smart fundraiser is willing to tailor their personal presentation to fit into the world of a major donor.

You can loosen up with your friends.

Be more formal and professional with your donors.

Bottom line:

All this stuff matters more than you imagine!

Not only does it affect your success raising money, but it also affects your ability to rise in your career. (not to mention socially.)

I know I’m not being politically correct here but I might was well say it all out loud.

I think we could all use more practice in graciousness and making others comfortable.

What do you think? Leave a comment and tell me!