Ready for a pop quiz?
The scenario: You’re settling into your airplane seat, dead tired after a long day of donor meetings, when your seatmate turns to you enthusiastically. “Hi, I’m So-and-So and I’m a financial executive at XYZ Company. Who are you?”
How do you respond?
a) Shake her hand with gusto and start swapping stories and business cards?
b) Take the above action and inquire about her company’s philanthropic priorities and ask for a sponsorship for your next event?
c) Freeze in both awkward terror and sheer exhaustion?
In my case, I choose C. And here’s why—I’m an introverted fundraiser.
I used to be embarrassed to tell people what I do because not-for-profit fundraising can seem like sales to outsiders. I’m proud of the non-profit I work for. I just don’t like being seen as THAT person with the “let me tell you about a great opportunity” pitch.
As I’ve honed my skills and grown up a little in my 20-year tenure in non-profit fundraising, the work comes more naturally and I’m not always aware of it. Do I still get nervous making cold calls? Of course. Do I still sweat when I ask for a large gift? You bet. But somehow, even with my preferred introverted style, most personal interactions have become unexpectedly delightful. Want to hear a true story?
Recently I spent the weekend with my parents who winter in Palm Springs, CA. I was there as a prelude to some work events in the area. Taking advantage of the amazing weather early Saturday morning, I set out on a brisk walk around the neighborhood. I was passing a gentleman getting out of his car and noticed both his house flagpole and sweatshirt proudly endorsed my local state’s university logo. I slowed and asked if he was from my state. “Yes, I’m down here supervising some remodeling on our vacation home,” he said. He was quite engaging and after a 10-minute conversation, I had invited him to our organization’s events the next week and I had his business card. And the bonus? Turns out he was from my local town and had very recently given to a sister organization’s project. What a small world!
I certainly didn’t plan that chance encounter, nor planned to work on my Saturday morning walk. It just happened. When you are a fundraiser, fundraising happens. No matter where you are, what you are doing or who you are with—it just infuses into your life. I like it that way. It certainly makes it less like a “job” and more of who I am.
I’ve gathered some practices along my journey and if you are introverted, maybe these ring true for you too:
• Be yourself. You can’t fake it. You must be passionate about your work and the cause you are representing. No matter what you do, eventually your true values and personal connections will shine through so make sure it is genuine. Donors will feel the difference when you are being transparent (or not).
• Be Prepared. You will run into donors and funders literally everywhere. I have seen donors in the DMV, hair salon, the grocery store and even on a remote trip. If you’re current on your stewardship points, you’ll always have something to share. And of course don’t forget to thank them! Enjoy it and laugh about it—I bet your donor feels awkward too.
• Leverage that chance meeting. Because your face and organization are fresh in your donor’s mind, don’t waste the opportunity to follow up and get that next business visit with them. An email or phone call the next week works great and you’ll have the perfect introduction.
• One size does not fit all. Just like our donors are individuals, there’s not one style of fundraising. Of course we learn best practices from the data, research and experts. But as a tribe, fundraisers have different personalities, life experiences and perspectives. Use your gifts and particular talents. Talk to your donors about your shared hobbies, life experiences and why you are personally involved in your non-profit’s work. Even as introverts, we still like to talk about our lives and it won’t outweigh listening to our donors. Authentic interaction adds depth to any relationship.
The next two aren’t unique to just us introverts but are potent tips nonetheless.
• Eat your vegetables. Maybe you don’t like giving speeches but sometimes you have to. Maybe you hate running meetings, but sometimes you have to. We all have things about our work we don’t like but just have to do. Bite the bullet and just do it and move on to the parts you do enjoy.
• Think about donors even when you aren’t at work. My coach sends postcards from her vacation spots to her cherished donors. I love this tried-and-true technique of remembering donors when you’re not with them. It makes the donor feel good knowing you think of them often, not just “on the job” or when you ask for a gift. Unique stewardship steps are memorable and personal. Your postcard will stand out in the crowded space of impact reports and thank you letters.
• Recharge your batteries. A fellow introverted team member and I were bemoaning the responsibility of yet another required cocktail hour. My friend mused she gets home from such events completely drained. I can relate. The dreaded networking time is a big stretch for those of us who aren’t naturally social butterflies. We can do it with success, but it takes more out of us personally than our colleagues who love to gab with anyone in any setting. After years of struggle, I accept that I much prefer the one-to-one visit over a room full of people. However, when duty calls, I eat my vegetables (see above). I’ve also learned to plan a quiet day hiking or a solo evening reading afterwards to recharge.
Nothing is more rewarding than connecting people’s philanthropic passions with those in need. I am grateful to have a career with purpose and a have a genuine love for the work. I hope you do too. Whatever your style or practice, remember to make it your own.
Diana Fisher has worked in development and fundraising for 20+ years with experiences from private high school education to health care philanthropy in southern California, to her current role at Providence Foundations of Oregon. Diana holds an M.A. from Fuller Theological Seminary and taught ethics in health care and world religions in southern California and Florida. She is the proud mother of two teenage sons who bring her joy and adventure.