The Three Characteristics That Distinguish the Best Advancement Practitioners

What are the three characteristics that distinguish the best advancement practitioners? Integrity, Curiosity, and Discipline.

Of the three, integrity is the most important. It entails being honest and adhering to ethical principles. Without it, other attributes like curiosity can be used for expedient purposes – and expediency continues to plague our field. People of integrity don’t exploit, mislead, manipulate or tiptoe around ethical issues. An advancement professional with integrity is more than “donor-centric,” they are honest brokers. They seek to do justice to both the organization they represent and those who would support it.

Genuine curiosity not only activates natural, objective listening, it demonstrates interest in and respect for the other. It is the magnet of attraction and glue of lasting relationships. The deeper the curiosity, the deeper the insights gleaned from each interview and the more we demonstrate that we listened, heard and will deliver on what donors most want to achieve by giving to and through our organizations. In addition, the curious are constant learners. They keep up with the times. They seek best practice.

Discipline is a commitment to guiding principles and sustainable outcomes. The best advancement professionals continue to train themselves, through their own inner drive and by seeking the assistance of others, to narrow the spaces between word and deed, between good intentions and different-making actions, and between how their time is spent reflexively and how it should be spent responsibly and strategically.

Other frequently cited attributes said to be critical to success in our field include:

  • Asking good questions
  • Compassion for where donors are coming from
  • Courage in asking
  • Commitment to the cause you represent
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Intuition – the ability to hear what isn’t being said
  • Powers of persuasion
  • Psychological insight

All have validity but none, in and of themselves, will prove as effective if not underpinned by integrity, curiosity, and discipline.

Find these in an employee and productivity will take care of itself. Find these in a boss and you will find a place that will bring out your best and put your talents to the best use. Find these in your colleagues and you will build a stronger culture of philanthropy.

Find these in yourself and you will be among the most privileged few.



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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