The most important trait of a fundraising leader

I recently tuned into a great Women in Development webinar led by Zach Smith and Jon Derek Croteau of Advancement Leaders. The topic: Understanding Advancement (aka Fundraising) Leadership. 

From the fundraising to finance fields, practitioners and researchers seek to quantify and qualify the holy grail of core elements that make certain leaders exceptional. If we can pinpoint the recipe, then perhaps we, too, can develop ourselves into exceptional leaders over time.

This journey to leadership is a fundamental focus of Advancement Leaders, and I think it's an excellent one. As Zach and Jon noted during the webinar, our field has grown quite organically; only in recent years have universities and other entities begun to "professionalize" fundraising career training and preparation. Currently, it often happens that excellent fundraisers get promoted into leadership roles, whether or not they have the skills required to lead a development shop effectively.

It makes sense, then, that Zach, Jon and others would now seek to establish evidence-based trainings to help fundraising professionals prepare for leadership roles in the field. During the webinar, they shared some case study findings on the traits of excellent fundraising leaders. During the webinar, one trait emerged as the most critical of all. Perhaps it's one that you'd least expect.


How about passion? you may ask. What about critical thinking, interpersonal skills, or tenacity? These traits and others certainly emerged in their research as important, but the presenters continually circled back to self-awareness as central to all else. Why? Because through self-awareness, you can:
  • Identify your own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Gain a realistic sense of where you best fit into an organization, whether as a leader or a team member.
  • Define what success means to you personally.
  • Think about your own performance. 
  • Be open to feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Observe how people react to you in real time.
  • Ask for help.
Only through self-awareness can we really grasp what we know, what we need to work on, and what professional satisfaction means to each of us.  

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