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Five Qualities of a Great Fundraiser

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Vincent, Sarah, Harvey


In the wake of AFP ICON in Las Vegas, May 2 – 4, the world’s largest fundraising conference, we wanted to get a sense of what members think of the qualities that make a great fundraiser. 

So, we asked people who know a thing or two about fundraising.

Vincent Duckworth, CFRE

Vincent Duckworth, CFRE, has been a leader in the nonprofit sector for more than two decades and is an expert on campaign design, strategy, and major gift performance. He is also Canada’s authority on philanthropic naming, which he wrote about in Excellence in Fundraising in Canada: Volume Two.

Based in Halifax, Sarah Lyon, CFRE, is an award-winning communications specialist who has worked in fundraising for 13 years and is the founder of Nova Scotia Gives More. 

And Harvey McKinnon has been working with charities for more than 30 years. He is the author of five acclaimed books, considered a world leader on monthly donors, is a sought-after speaker, and works with some of the most well-known charitable brands. His latest book is How to Create Lifelong Donors Through Monthly Giving was released in 2020.

Five qualities of a great fundraiser

1. Be passionate.

Sarah Lyon, CFRE

We need to show compassion, empathy and passion, say both Duckworth and McKinnon. First for ourselves, then for others, for the sector and its multitude of missions, and then for the perspective of the donor.

2. Use your sense of humour

Fundraising can put you in an array of awkward positions. Have you ended a phone call with a donor saying “love you” by accident, asks Lyon? Autocorrect gone wrong? Laugh it off. Follow up and move on. (And always have a backup outfit in your office because some days going with the flow means spilled coffee.)

3. Commit yourself to learning

There is so much to learn about this craft, the sector, and the world, says Duckworth.  We must commit to growing our knowledge. “There are so many opportunities to learn in this field,” says Lyon. “Yes, you can do a webinar, go to a conference, or study for your CFRE. But you can also ask another fundraiser out for coffee. There are so many fundraisers out there to learn from, don’t be shy. Connect with them.”

4. Be Your Authentic Self

Harvey McKinnon
Harvey McKinnon

“Whether you are an introvert, or an extrovert; a great writer or a better presenter; bring your authentic self to your work as a fundraiser,” says Lyon. “I’ve worried about this a lot in my career. I’ve cried with donors, I’ve belly-laughed with donors. I’ve been told by colleagues that both are unprofessional and yet, it has helped in my relationship building because I am being me.” Duckworth adds that keeping your promises to yourself and to others is an important way to build relationships.

5. See change as your friend     

Trying to stay open to reframing practices, rethinking perspectives, and to being vulnerable is a way, says Duckworth. And part of that change can be setting up boundaries, Lyon adds. “Think about your time. We say put the effort into what will get you the best results, but that doesn’t mean you never get a break. Take your lieu time. Take your lunch away from your desk. Take your vacation. Have a chat with your executive director about donor and fundraiser rights.”

Harvey McKinnon boils the five qualities down to their essence: Passion, Persistence, Integrity

Life-long Learning and Good Communication.  Plus … McKinnon points out one last critical quality. He believes being a good–or, at least, enthusiastic—dancer is a bonus.


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11 Dec 2023 President's Perspective Blog
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