Top Three Characteristics of Resilient Fundraising Leadership

July 29, 2020 | Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Resilience is a broad topic, but time and time again I come back to three characteristics that are definitive of resilient leaders and which are sure to affect your fundraising leadership. First, let’s consider the context in which we nonprofit leaders and fundraisers must be resilient and adapt.


Our Context

The May 27th Washington Post article entitled “Coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” says that the long-term nature of Covid-19, should serve as a call to arms for the public, a road map for the trillions of dollars Congress is spending, and a fixed navigational point for the nation’s current, chaotic state-by-state patchwork strategy.

Did you gulp when I read that? I sure did. But wait, there’s more.

The Centre for Risk Studies at the University of Cambridge  determined a consensus projection economic loss of some $26.8 trillion, or 5.3%, of global GDP in the coming five years. In the US. they projected a best-case loss of $550 billion (0.4% of GDP) and a worst-case loss of $19.9 trillion (13.6%).

I don’t share this health and economic context to scare you, but to give a sober view of what we need to be resilient about. Our organizations must adapt to these facts in order to meet the need that is coming. Knowing is power.

Now, here are the three top characteristics that are central to what makes a resilient fundraising leader:


Never give up.

My colleague Larry Kramer, who at age 87 breathed his last a few weeks ago, co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in the middle of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and he never gave up. He never gave up because he had a vision for healthcare infused with civil rights. He insisted that we speak-up and act-up for what we needed and settle for nothing less.

What’s your vision?

Imagine what Larry Kramer was up against. At that time, no medication for the treatment of HIV/AIDS existed. At that time, Larry and other AIDS activists like myself held five funerals a week for our friends and colleagues. Even now, 40 years later, we still don’t have a vaccine to prevent HIV transmission. But a dozen years after Larry Kramer set GMHC’s healthcare vision, we secured the needed treatments and the new drugs.

Persistence is the final pay-off, its own reward. Never give up.


Tell Yourself the Truth.

Here’s one big truth: there is no “perfect moment” to raise money. There is no such thing as a time when all possible factors are in your favor. But there are some surprising and significant advantages to raising funds in hard times. It is quite clear that difficult times disclose the urgency and drama of human need, and it motivates donors and funders to give. This is just that time.

Are you moving ahead with deepening and expanding your fundraising?


You Have to Be Prepared Or Get Prepared.

The best time to raise money is when you are prepared. Nothing else is of greater importance. Preparation requires an investment of time, money and deep thinking. Yes, I was a Boy Scout, so being prepared is engrained in me, but it was the Boy Scout motto because it works.

The fact is that our sector was vastly more prepared when CV19 hit than the governmental and business sectors. Has anyone given us credit for that? Take a bow now.

Yet we have room for improvement. For example, do you have a plan for  increasing your donor retention? Are you surveying your donors? Do you have a written CV19 relief plan? Do you have a Phase II CV19 plan? Are you finding new donors through prospect research? Have you made process improvements to your board of directors or development committee? Are you seeking new or renewed major gifts to increase your cash and endowed reserves? Is your monthly giving program the best it can be?

I know the list is long, but this is what it takes to be prepared.


I welcome your own thoughts on our blog about what it means to be a resilient fundraising leader in these challenging times.

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