A Great Disservice Some Fundraisers Do To Fundraising: Play to The Stereotype

Which stereotype do fundraisers play to? The one that perpetuates false expectations, that makes the best work seem insignificant, and causes honest feedback from fundraisers to be dismissed as excuse-making.

It is the stereotype of the fundraiser who will bring in big gifts largely if not entirely on force of personality or powers of persuasion. Just hand ‘em a wish list and off they go.

It can be easy to play to that stereotype when you’re seeking a new position, when you have an impressive record as a frontline fundraiser, when all the questions are about what “you” did, and you have some great stories to tell about real differences you made. It can be seductive when you are held up as a hero coming to an organization’s rescue. Given most of us endure times when our best work is not appreciated, it’s understandable why we would want to bask in such moments. But it’s a short hop from “held up” to “set up”.

So how should we respond when we see that stereotype in the minds of decision-makers, hiring authorities, or board members? There are many ways we could reject the stereotype or add more realistic flesh to its mythic bones. My favorite response comes from Carlo Robustelli, VP of College Advancement at Dickinson, who explains, “We’re not miracle workers, we’re matchmakers.” That metaphor, which everyone can conceptually grasp, provides a framework by which fundraising can be more accurately described.

Ways that metaphor can be built out at teachable moments are enumerated below.

Fundraisers are Matchmakers Not Miracle Workers

The Best Matchmakers:

  • Are hired by one party but work to make both parties happy
  • Strive to create long, happy, productive relationships
  • Need good listening skills and high EQ
  • Need both parties to be clear about who they are and what they expect from the other
  • Need the party that hires them to provide evidence of character and potential if they are to find a worthy match
  • Don’t try to talk anyone into an unworkable arrangement
  • Don’t want either party to rush into an agreement
  • Orchestrate interactions between the parties to be sure of their compatibility
  • Know if the match fails, it raises questions about their judgment
  • Demonstrate patient persistence by staying on task without being a pest
  • Know long relationships lead to greater credibility and more business
  • Don’t interject their judgments; if both parties are happy, that’s all that matters


Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 


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