10 Traits of a Successful Foundation President


At Library Strategies, we’ve had the privilege of working with countless foundation executives. It’s no surprise to anyone to learn that some of these executives are extremely successful at what they do and others may not be. What sets the really good executives apart from their less successful peers?


1) Passion for the Mission

Fundraisers have a reputation for changing jobs frequently as a more lucrative position becomes available in a new organization. There is nothing that donors find more aggravating than to develop a relationship with a development officer and then see them leave. Longevity in fundraising is one of the more important traits because it’s all about relationships: not brief relationships, but long-term relationships. If you find that great fundraising executive, do everything you can to keep them.


2) A True Love of People

Development work is rarely about sitting in your office writing a grant request. Successful development people spend most of their time meeting with people. The successful professionals love meeting with all kinds of people, not just the super-rich. We know that many of the biggest planned gifts are left by unassuming people who appear to have limited means. A successful fundraiser enjoys interacting with all kinds of people and finds something interesting in every interaction. In a sense, they are people junkies.


3) Attention to Detail

This is a super-trait! Many passionate fundraisers have failed to succeed because of a lack of detail orientation in their work.  Fundraisers need to have outstanding organizational skills. The best way to impress a donor is by doing what you promised – before you said it would be done – and doing it with true attention to detail.


4) Outstanding Communication Skills

Fundraising is all about relationships, and good relationships require ongoing communication. When donors receive a poorly written request or acknowledgement letter, it says a lot about the individual who wrote it and the organization.  Written communications should always be crisp, concise, grammatically correct, and have an element of emotion in them. In conversations with donors, it’s important to listen more and say less.


5) Ability to Prioritize

There will never be enough time in the day to accomplish everything that comes across your desk while making time to meet with donors and Board members. Every day you need to decide what can wait until the next day and what absolutely needs to happen today. Good advice: By the end of each day, be sure to reply to every email you’ve received that day which requires a response and be sure to return all phone calls even if you know it will go to an answering machine.


6) Sincerity

We’ve all met them: fundraisers who come across as slick sales people. You know they don’t have their heart and soul in their work. These are the individuals who will typically “jump ship” for an extra $5,000 in salary. When a fundraiser is sincere, it comes across in everything they do and with everyone with whom they interact. We want to be around people like this!


7) Lack of Ego

This trait goes hand-in-hand with sincerity. Those individuals who lack sincerity often pair it with a big ego. Fundraisers with a big ego allow themselves to be more the focus than their organization. Donors can see right through this and will react with their closed checkbooks.


8) Ability to Accept Criticism

We all make mistakes; we’re human. People who accept responsibility for their mistakes are usually forgiven more quickly than those who make excuses. Being defensive in the face of criticism is a weakness that others pick up on quickly. The interesting thing about accepting criticism is how disarming it is to the critic. It leaves them speechless…and impressed!


9) Understanding the Importance of the Board of Directors

Unsuccessful fundraisers believe that fundraising is all about their abilities. The most successful fundraisers know that involving Board members and volunteers in your fundraising will always produce better results. Board members are door openers. They can make you look good! And they can get you appointments that you could never get alone. Board members like to help in this way and are always an important component of a successful fundraising appointment.


10) A Sense of Humor

There are very few situations where having a sense of humor will not be appreciated. Staff, Board members, and donors all appreciate someone who can make light of a difficult situation…especially when it is self-deprecating. No matter how seriously we take our jobs, let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Share the humor in a situation and laugh often!

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