What’s the difference between a fundraiser and a salesperson?

publication date: Sep 4, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Salespeople have a lot in common with fundraisers, according to a new study by Steve W. Martin of the USC Marshall School of Business. But there are also some startling differences.Janet Gadeski photo


Martin found seven traits among top salespeople. Surprisingly, the first is modesty. Top salespeople emphasize the team of skilled people that stand behind the product, he says.

Good fundraisers are equally careful to stay out of the spotlight. They put donors and their mission impact at centre stage all the time.


Eighty-five percent of the top performers Martin studied are highly conscientious. They have a strong sense of duty and take their jobs seriously. They take control of the sales cycle rather than allowing the customer to drive the process.

Donor-centred fundraising is just the opposite. The donor sets the pace and tone of the relationship, and the fundraiser respects her timing. But there's still a role for conscientiousness: sensitively moving the gift process along, persistently focusing on the gift's urgency and potential impact.

Achievement orientation

Top sellers want results. So do top fundraisers. Both keep their goals in mind and constantly compare their performance to their goals.

For salespeople, Martin says, that means strategizing about the people they're selling to and how their products fit into the organization, rather than focusing on the products' functionality.

For fundraisers, it means knowing their donors and how the charity's work fits into their hopes values and preferences. It may even mean modifying the gift - timing, amounts, pledge period, designation - to align with the donor's capabilities and interests.


Hunger for knowledge is high among top salespeople. They want to close gaps in information so they know if they can win business. They are active and inquisitive during conversations with customers.

Fundraisers too must be inquisitive, although with much more care. Closing a gift is not a matter of directly presenting a strong business case. We connect with the donor's heart, mind and soul, Fraser Green's three foundations of donor loyalty. That information is just as essential as the facts a salesperson seeks.

Lack of gregariousness

Top sales performers are less gregarious than their fair-to-middling counterparts. Martin says dominance is essential to "gain the willing obedience of customers such that the salesperson's recommendations and advice are followed." Those who are too friendly have trouble building up that upper hand.

Even though "dominance" is not what fundraisers want, there's something to be said for maintaining clear boundaries with donors. The distance may be narrower, given our focus on heart, mind and soul, but it's still important to maintain.

We represent our charity, not ourselves. We walk the tightrope of working for the donor's best interest, but also our charity's. The same boundaries that top salespeople maintain may well be a key to building trust (not dominance) in us as professionals. And it helps avoid the unrealistic expectations we've all read about in ethical case studies.

Lack of discouragement

This one's obvious. The faster you bounce back from disappointments and losses, the sooner you're prepared for the next opportunity.

Lack of self-consciousness

Top salespeople aren't easily embarrassed. Fundraisers can't be embarrassed about asking for money. Remember, you're asking for a mission you believe in, not for yourself.

Read more here

Janet Gadeski brings two decades of experience in fundraising and nonprofit management to her work as Editor of Hilborn Charity eNEWS and President of Hilborn. Her fundraising and management experiences range from a public radio station to The United Church of Canada Foundation, which she served for five years as its first President & CEO.

Contact Janet by email.

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