As I See It | Barbara Shelton, CFRE | Vice President

As a fundraiser, are you a donkey or a horse?

I love the scene outside my window in the morning: two quarter horses grazing the land, frolicking playfully with admiring neighbors passing by on early walks before it is too hot. Periodically throughout the day, a donkey joins the horses and calms their spirits. In the evening, the donkey and his four-legged friends head to new pasture for a safe and restful night. It is like clockwork, a routine that repeats every day.

After months of pondering this scenario, the donkey/horse trio got the best of my curiosity. After a quick web search, I learned that donkeys are keepers of the field, known for their guarding abilities, gentleness and work ethic. They are hardy animals that take on many roles. Every team needs a donkey. 

On the other hand, horses are magnificent creatures full of adventure and fun. They are known to be social and loyal, nurturing confidence among the animals or humans that accompany them. Every team needs a horse. 

Every high-performing fundraising team needs a donkey and a few horses.

The important work of fundraising is a routine of working with purpose and performing your best, while imagining the potential in others to be agents of change for your mission. Every team needs a donkey: someone that is steady and loyal to its members. They can take on varied roles and seamlessly move from one task to another while encouraging others to be their best selves. 

The team also requires a few vibrant personalities. Teammates that are playful and adventurous with the talent to see a goal and run for it! Not unlike the scene outside my window, a fundraising team can flourish when given the right setting. They will also challenge every aspect of your individual strengths. And, how you work with other team members in reaching team goals is another important talent. 

Successful fundraisers are a unique breed but the five bonds that bring them together are enduring: 
  1. Keepers of the mission: It is vitally important to have a deep sense of purpose and commitment to the mission. People drawn to a career in fundraising seek to do good in the world. The fundraiser’s job is to create a mutually beneficial space where our programs make a meaningful impact and our supporters see the difference they are facilitating.  
  2. Champions for building relationships: It is not surprising fundraisers often have large circles of friends and acquaintances. They are known for loyalty to others and to the nonprofits they advocate. Most fundraisers are very resourceful with well-developed people skills, a strong indicator for job success. 
  3. Hard-working: The flow of work for an ambitious fundraising team is never-ending. Effectively planning and implementing projects while juggling multiple priorities is of paramount importance. Fundraisers endure long work hours to create donor experiences that inspire and win the hearts of others. We must set well-defined goals that encourage accountability and push us to achieve results, not forgetting to honor times of celebration. 
  4. Sure-footed: Fundraisers are confident and competent individually and collectively as a team. Every fundraiser must know their own limits, understand standard building blocks of the profession and Donor Bill of Rights, and practice an array of technical aspects essential to fulfill their calling. The team must be grounded in trust and aim to seek understanding over being heard, excel at communication, and be able to complement and leverage the breadth of knowledge of every team member.  
  5. Very smart: Much has been written about being smart. Being smart in fundraising is something that is cultivated and encouraged through curiosity, peer conversation, and by recognizing what you do not already know. Every fundraiser’s dream is to put ideas together and create solutions that will be game-changers for the cause they love. What seems impossible drives us to learn, explore and grow. 

No fundraising team is identical but empowered fundraising teams operate like clockwork. They accomplish something beyond their individual contributors, unlocking the power of the group’s potential. This work is exemplified by the talent each member brings to the team along with a total commitment to the work and each other.  

At M. Gale & Associates we believe people are a nonprofit organization’s most valuable asset. We care about the fundraising profession, our relationship with our clients, and their success. Our seasoned consultants provide one-to-one coaching and team coaching services to refresh your knowledge base and offer insights for complex problems, driving immediate and lasting benefits.

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About the Author

Barbara Shelton is a veteran fundraiser and nonprofit executive with 35 years of experience working with a wide variety of nonprofit and faith-based organizations, specializing in human services. During her career, Barbara has led fundraising and communications efforts for organizations such as ACH Child and Family ServicesGirl Scouts of Texas Oklahoma Plains, the Diocese of Birmingham (Alabama), the Diocese of Fort Worth and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Dallas. She also founded and operated a full-service philanthropic fundraising, marketing and consulting practice for more than a decade. Barbara is a member of Leadership Fort Worth’s Leadership Class of 2014 and was honored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fort Worth Metro Chapter in 2019 as the Outstanding Professional Fundraiser.