How to Retain Your Best Fundraisers and Donors – Listen

When we poll fundraisers in advance of team practices (I don’t like the word “training” because people aren’t pets), we see very similar responses across institutions including types of institutions (social services, arts organizations, colleges, etc.) and size of institutions.

In almost every incidence, fundraisers place the greatest confidence in themselves and their abilities.

The next highest level of confidence is in their colleagues, particularly those who support their work with research and, therefore, the quality of the prospects assigned to them.

They express decreasing confidence (in order) in:

  • Their organization’s case for support
  • The organization’s ability to break a case for support into a set of “major gift-worthy concepts” (it’s what I call too much wow, too little how)
  • The means and metrics by which their work is evaluated
  • Higher ups holding themselves to the same standards that they are held to
  • The masterminding of their records system (not just the CRM but the conversion of raw records like contact reports into insightful donor biographies)

Seeing this pattern over and over calls into question the remedies so often proposed to improve fundraising results, including:

  • Exhorting fundraisers to overcome their fears and make more calls (when it’s their lack of confidence in the quality of fundable concepts at their disposal)
  • Providing them handholding services to ensure they work their way through a formulaic fundraising process (which they believe is much more about the matching of content to donor’s convictions than the dogged pursuit of prospects)
  • Measuring their results more methodically (rather than providing them more information about how the institution is measuring its results)
  • Finding a better CRM that will compensate for a more scientific, systematic way of building more emotionally intelligent donor biographies

But, then again, how many higher-ups and the “experts” they employ to improve fundraising results begin by listening to their fundraisers? Effective fundraising is rooted in deep listening. Organizations need to listen as closely to their fundraisers, and their fundraisers need to listen to their donors.

It’s the best way to retain your best fundraisers and your best donors.


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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