Tips for becoming the best fundraiser you can be

October 9, 2022
Christina Cullen

Our USA Director and founder of LAPA Fundraising, Laurence Pagnoni has drawn up these top tips on how to become the best fundraiser you can be from his own recent professional development experiences.

You are the most important aspect of your fundraising program, not the latest software, not the latest research findings, not the latest prospect research tactic. Solely, you. Without you, all the rest is grist for the mill.

Top Five Tips

1. Sometimes you must forget everything and start anew.

What worked before may not work now. Ask yourself what would it take to clear the decks and try a brand-new approach? Of course, we don’t want something new just for the novelty of it. We want something new to attempt to improve our impact.

For example, I analyzed how many foundation applications our firm submitted over a five-year period vs. how many were successful. The successful ones were a low number. I asked myself, what would be the result of just applying to the best prospects and letting the others go? In doing that I reduced our expenses and achieved a higher return. Choosing to not apply to “maybe” foundations made me nervous, but it worked.

Trust your emerging proficiency in your fundraising skills and instincts.

2. Surprise people with substance, not effects.

In an age of superficiality, go the other way. Deep down people prefer depth over glam, even those that protest otherwise.

For example, our field is called “Development” for a particularly good reason; the best results come over time, after a developmental process. Yet administrators and Board members often ask us for fast returns. Instead, we must help them understand the fundraising timeline, the need for infrastructure investments, and the value of incremental improvements.

3. Forget yourself and make the work a “We.”

We have reached the limit of radical individualism in our culture. The adage that “one can pull him- or herself up by their bootstraps,” has died a quiet death in the face of the planet heating up, in the face of authoritarian governmental regimes, and income inequality.

For example, working for the community has always been a strength of the nonprofit sector. Yet fundraisers often tell me how isolated they feel. Let’s counter those feelings by integrating fundraising throughout our organizations. Let’s make the case for why fundraising should be embraced and what positive impact it has when done well.

4. Use your imagination.

Those of you who follow my musings, know that I have written about the importance of imagination before. You can read about it here. I would bet that your fundraising program is the same year-after-year and that its performance has flatlined. I also know that you can and want to do better.

I suggest that you consider infusing imagination into your fundraising program to vastly enhance its performance. I am not speaking in the abstract, but from years of observing thousands of fundraisers. I’m talking about a specific skill that fundraisers can develop, a skill essential for securing the largest donations; without it, both the fundraising program and the implementation of the nonprofit’s mission will have lackluster results.

Imagination in this sense is the ability to perceive an opportunity for real change.

For example, if it’s difficult to find funding for a certain need, see if you can bundle it as a line item of a larger and more fundable approach. When a community health center wanted to purchase a certain diagnostic machine, LAPA Fundraising suggested packaging the machine as a line item of a community health education program. You provide health education around a certain disease and offer on-the-spot diagnosis. Then you have the machine to use afterwards for primary care. More funders will support education than an equipment purchase. That level of imagination secured new funding!

5. Recruit new blood.

Have you noticed that the same few people in your nonprofit tend to define it? If so, seek out new blood. Start with your volunteers, particularly those volunteers who have a high wealth capacity to give, and interview them to learn about their interests and their willingness to be more involved.

Are all the necessary skill sets represented on your board? For example, the American Polar Society has been seeking to recruit new blood and new energy. One of its new board members introduced offering honor society memberships for donors to purchase as premiums for esteemed peers. Another, with a background as a travel agent, worked out with a tour line a Polar Society-sponsored cruise that could net the organization a cash stipend depending on how many people sign up. These new approaches happened because of new blood.

This article was originally published on

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