What Makes Fundraising Truly Great?

‘What differentiates truly great fundraising from the average, good and poor?’ and ‘What are the factors that allow an organisation to double, treble or even quadruple its income?’

These are questions addressed by Professors Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang in their newly released report, Great Fundraising.

Writing in The Agitator on the report, Roger Craver says: “the nugget … most important to note: The fact that Adrian and Jen focused on interviewing and understanding organizational leaders who had achieved massive growth. As in 2X, 3X or 4X their organization’s ‘normal’ income.

How did they do this? Everyone said they could not have achieved great fundraising in the organization as it once was. Creating breakthrough results required fundamental change in culture and thinking. Not great ideas, no brilliant creative, just the internal change that says mediocre and complacent is no longer acceptable.” (emphasis added).

Craver continues with a key take-away from the report:

“Successful fundraising directors tend to be leaders who put the organization first and far ahead of their personal ambitions. Leaders who embed themselves holistically in their organization, creating great fundraising for a cause they are passionate about. They lead and inspire others through a combination of will and personal humility.”

This, from the Executive Summary of the report:

“So what do we mean by great fundraising? None of our participants defined greatness in terms of the absolute amounts raised, they defined greatness in terms of delivering growth and substantive growth at that. Outstanding fundraising enables an organization’s fundraising income to double, triple or even quadruple so that the charity climbs dramatically up the league table of charities as ranked by voluntary income.

Growth though was not a goal in and of itself. None of our interviewees defined fundraising greatness without mentioning the impact that the enhanced income would have on the mission of the organization. A passion for the work and daring to believe in what might be achieved was considered paramount. On occasion the success had taken the focal organization by surprise with some interviewees reporting that so much additional income had been generated the organization was compelled to reinvent their programs to ensure that the monies were properly spent. Equally, others mentioned that in order to create a compelling ongoing case for support, they had needed to work closely with their program team to ensure that any new objectives were meaningful for donors. Fundraising greatness thus delivers the kind of growth that is transformational for the organization and its programs either in scale or in content so that the organization can multiply its societal impact.

Our results indicate that exceptional fundraising managers exhibit the characteristics of level 5 leaders. They manage their teams and achieve desired change through a combination of will and personal humility. We also found that they devote considerable attention to what they regard as the critical building blocks of success, namely building an exceptional team, structure(s) and culture.”

The report is available free of charge here.


How does your organization stack-up? And equally important, how do your leaders stack-up? Do they put the organization “first and far ahead of their personal ambitions?”

Are they inspiring? Are they spending time developing an exceptional team? And a strong organizational culture that optimizes the impact of those in the talent pipeline?

Or, are they simply mediocre gatekeepers.

Food for thought – especially for board members charged with executive oversight.