7 factors you need to have influence as a fundraiser

I hear from Directors of Development all the time that they are frustrated in their positions.  These Directors feel that they don’t have influence as the fundraiser. They say they feel marginalized by their Executive Director, frustrated with board members, or stymied by uncooperative program staff.

Is this you? Do you lack the influence you need to be a successful fundraiser?

Here’s the bad news. You can’t really change other people. They have to change themselves. .

But you do have control over the way you behave and relate to others inside your organization. And by doing that, you can help create the insight others need for change.

As I was preparing for a workshop presentation for AFP ICON 2021, reviewed my own ability to have influence as a fundraiser. I focused on the three jobs I had as Director of Development.

For example, in my first fundraising job, I started as a sponsorship relations coordinator creating the newsletter and fund appeals on a budget of $75,000. Seven years later, I was part of the five person senior management team at this national nonprofit. When I chronicled the changes, my department grew from just me to a six person department with a budget of $750,000. I oversaw house fundraising, grants, donor education, cross-cultural communications, volunteers, a resource library, and a startup bequest society. I also participated on teams within the organization and with our international colleagues.

Here are 7 factors I found to be essential to have influence as a fundraiser:

1. Expertise.

Demonstrate that you know what you are doing, as both a fundraiser and as a manager. That means learning what really works and doesn’t work in fund development and how to put that into action. This requires you to read the research, participate in the professional organizations that value research, hang out with colleagues who have proven they can raise money. You need to take charge of your professional development. It also means that you need to develop expertise in other aspects of your management, like cost-centered budgeting, planning, etc.

2. Strategy.

Excellent fundraisers are enablers of their nonprofit’s strategic plan. They know what the program and financial goals are of the plan, what the values and theory of change is of the organization, and they have built a strategic fund development plan that aligns with and advances the strategic plan.  A strategic fund development plan is more than the annual set of goals, objectives, activities and calendar. It includes an analysis of the internal and external factors that affect your fundraising, it is forward looking, it includes the why of the path you have chosen to select. And it is multi-year, including the investments you’ll need to achieve the results needed by your nonprofit.

3. Data.

Your plan has to be informed by data to be have the credibility to sell your needs and direction to your colleagues. I’ve seen way too many fundraisers who just haven’t done the necessary math. Thankfully, fundraising success can be translated into numbers. And those numbers aren’t just money in the door but also the level of effort and investment needed to reach success.

For example: How many grants at what predictive level are needed? Are those possible to produce given the funder universe, the capabilities of your staff? How many donors at what level of giving are needed to reach your targets? What are the predicted response rates of the different types of fundraising to get you there. Do you have the people and the budget to achieve those predictions? What’s the giving pyramid for our event look like? You can convince people if you can show what return on investment they will received, as long as it is based on a combination of your past practice and industry standards.

4. Trust.

You want to be known as a trusted partner. While having the trust of your leadership is critical, don’t forget the other people you count on and who count on you. Like your donors. Grant funders. Vendors. Your colleagues in the field and in your organization. The best way to be trusted is to do what you said you would do, when you said you’d do it. Trustworthiness means telling the truth. And being your authentic self.

5. Team Player.

As a fundraiser, you already know you need to build relationships with people outside our organization. But you also need to build trusted relationships with the people inside your organization as well. Your partnership with your Executive Director is probably the most critical relationship you need. I’d follow that by being respected and valued by your program staff and the other staff members you count on: your IT folks, or your chief financial officer, or communications coordinator. Get involved and engaged in committees beyond fundraising. Do want you can to support the efforts of others.

6. Self-knowledge.

You’ll never be the leader you want to be if you don’t know yourself.  I have this saying on my wall to remind me of that: “Analyzing others is knowledge. Knowing yourself is wisdom. Managing others requires skill. Mastering yourself takes inner strength.” It’s one interpretation of the Tao Te Ching Chapter 33:

7. Results.

This last factor I debated putting first. It is essential, but too often overlooked. Really, nothing enables you to have influence as a fundraising more than delivering results (money, donors). Success matters.

What have you found enables you to have influence as the development ?


Run a good meeting. A leadership practice in plain sight.

Making it Work: Managing Your Development Office

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