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Emotional Intelligence in Fundraising – Part 2

Emotional Intelligence in fundraising

Fundraising is about Influence – winning people over to your point of view. The starting point for influence in a not-for-profit setting should be a personal drive to achieve some wider social good.

In part 1 of this this blog we concentrated on the importance of framing and organising your passion or personal motivation to help you achieve the outcome you want. This ensured you could express, but aren’t overwhelmed by, your own passion or emotional commitment to the cause. It also ensures you don’t begin by assuming that other people will immediately share your passion.  Part two of the blog specifically looks at the Daniel Goleman 5-stage framework for EI and how to use that in fundraising. (Read part 1 first!)
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Managing your emotion is as important as having emotions. If you simply emote, donors or others may not identify with the feeling you’re having or may simply regard you as passionate but flaky. You may feel motivated, but they won’t.

So you need Emotional intelligence (EI) to manage your passion. This term EI was popularised by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence (Bantam, 1997) although the basic concept had been around for some time before this. Essentially he describes it as the ability to successfully manage your internal and external relationships. In this context internal means the security and confidence you have about yourself, your needs, your values, and beliefs. And external means the way in which you interact and engage effectively with others in social and professional settings. This combination of internal and external emotional management helps you achieve more and is critical to successful influence [1].

According to Goleman there are five dimensions to EI. We’re not going to go into these in detail. But in order to get the most out of the other skills and techniques we explore from the book, you’ll need to know about and have access to the dimensions:

  • Self awareness
  • Self regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

Let’s look at what each of these is and how they are relevant to you in a fundraising influence setting.

Dimension Definition Influencing Implication
Self awareness ’The ability to recognise and understand our moods, emotions, and drives. Being realistic in our assessment of ourselves and our abilities.’ – Understanding what motivates/excites you about the cause
– Sensing why you feel uncomfortable or angry when provoked – perhaps by a donor’s unreasonable request for a report-back over a weekend
– Being clear about what you want from a situation and what the benefits might be
Self regulation ‘The ability to control or redirect unhelpful impulses and moods, and the tendency to suspend judgement and to think before acting.’ – Staying calm when there’s a crisis – for example, the catering fails to turn up for your cultivation event
– Not lashing out when attacked or criticised for a controversial or difficult decision
– Not having mood swings in front of the development team when things go better, or not so well
Motivation ‘Using our deepest preferences and drivers to move us to take the initiative towards our goals – and the ability to persevere.’ – Being clear about your values and sticking to them — perhaps challenging a donor even though this risks losing the gift or perhaps your job
– Staying connected emotionally to your cause over a sustained period of time
– Not losing heart when things don’t go well – and being able to support colleagues or volunteers when they feel anxious
Empathy ‘The ability to recognise what others are feeling and see their perspective, and skills in treating them according to their needs and concerns.’ – Being ‘fair’ and balanced in your assessment of others – maybe understanding why a donor might reasonably say ‘no.’
– Accurately understanding how others might feel in a given situation
– Expressing appropriate emotions and feelings to others
Social Skills ‘The ability to ‘read’ social situations – and skills in starting, managing and building on relationships with individuals and groups.’ – Recognising and managing a group dynamic such as a volunteer board or team meeting
– Choosing the ‘right’ kind of relationship to have with someone – balancing ‘friendliness’ with your professional relationship
– Successfully maintaining friendships/professional relationships over time

EI skills and abilities are fundamental to success in a range of settings – at work and in your personal life, as well as in fundraising influence. The EI model’s first three elements – self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation – will help you to manage your passion or commitment. The second cluster will help you to understand others and their passions, concerns and motivation.

Our experience confirms that emotionally intelligent fundraisers and influencers are simply more successful. Giles Pegram’s emotionally intelligent appeal is to a shared passion, “What will it mean for children?”

Developing EI skills in others

As well as developing your own EI skills it’s useful to be able to spot or develop these skills in others. You can then include these people in your influence approach.

One especially useful group of people to have access to when you’re trying to influence are called connectors. These are people with lots of friends and associates – which means they are strong on the second cluster of EI skills. Malcolm Gladwell coined the word connectors in his seminal book The Tipping Point (Little Brown, New York, 2000.) In the book he explains that some individuals have both extensive social connections and great social power. They usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and financial circles. If you ask them “Do you know anyone I can stay with in LA?” the connector will offer you a choice of 10 people, all of whom they’re sure would offer you a bed because he or she is a personal friend.

Their extraordinary networks mean a connector can be enormously useful in expanding the scope of a fundraiser’s influence project. A key reason for this is because most people are much more likely to do something if asked by a friend or close associate.

Here’s an example. I recently attended a conference run by the Association of Lutheran Development Executives in Baltimore. He was introduced, over dinner, to Pastor Robert Knott who organises an outstandingly successful door-to-door fundraising collection week in Chicago. Pastor Knott is a shy man and he’s only one person, so he uses connectors to help him achieve his result and support the ministry. In particular, the pastor is immensely proud of one specific connector-parishioner who organises and runs a short program that he reckons makes the whole scheme work.

I later met Pastor Knott’s connector – a redoubtable 60-year-old widow, Roberta, and she told him the secrets of her success.

First she invited fellow Lutherans she knew from throughout the city to come to a meeting – selling it as a social gathering. At the meeting she asked them to act as collectors to support the work of the parish. She then delivered a concise briefing and training that took the form of six simple guidelines. We think they’re a superb distillation of the principles of emotional intelligence in action. Here are Roberta’s Rules for organising a world-class collection.

  • Arrange to personally drop off the envelopes at a time when people are most likely to be at home so you can meet them – don’t just put it through the letterbox or in the mailbox.
  • When you ring the doorbell and they answer, explain first that you are a neighbour if you don’t directly know them. Mention, if you have, that you may have seen them in the street or supermarket. Or apologise that you haven’t.
  • Notice and mention something positive about the décor on the outside of the house. Compliment them on their yard if they have one. And mention it’s great that people round here take a pride in such things.
  • Explain what you’re doing and emphasise it’s a community/parish activity run by local volunteers to help others.
  • Hand them the envelope and ask for a donation. Don’t say “However small.” Mention that this is a big challenge and we’re hoping that this neighbourhood/parish with be a top contributor as in previous years.
  • Explain that you’ll be back tomorrow at about the same time, if that’s ok, to collect the envelope. Or if not, ask when would be a good time to come back. And make sure you stick to that arrangement. Remember this person is now your friend!

EI often sounds like common sense. And much of it is. If you’re looking to achieve influence, make sure you don’t just rely on your own talents and abilities. Find others — especially connectors — and ask them to help extend your sphere of influence.


Fundraising needs passion. You’ll never succeed without personal passion to drive you, and to help you to overcome the challenges that trying to influence others brings. But you need to be able to properly focus and channel your passion if you’re going to communicate it and use it to real effect.

There are two elements to focussing your passion – emotional engagement and emotional intelligence.

High levels of emotional engagement are essential. You need to feel engaged in your cause and communicate that engagement even if you’ve been involved in it for years. More than that you need to openly demonstrate that you share your organisation’s beliefs and values. If you don’t do this, how can you possibly hope to engage a donor at anything more than a superficial level? Passion doesn’t mean wild emotion – it can be most powerful when it’s quiet and restrained.

A starting point to achieve that focussed intensity is to avoid the use of passion-quenching language so common in many charity missions and causes.

To share your engagement try the discipline of an ‘elevator pitch’ – can you shape and communicate your passion in a coherent way in 30 seconds or less? Use the Think, Feel, Do formula to ensure that your message is organised effectively. Begin with the action you want others to take, then choose the emotion that is most likely to drive that action, and finally select the information that will help generate that emotion

The second characteristic of effective fundraising passion is emotional intelligence. EI provides a combination of internal and external emotional management techniques which help you to shape and present your feelings to others, and understand their response.

According to Daniel Goleman, the EI guru, there are five key dimensions you need to access to achieve high levels of emotional intelligence:

  • Self awareness: understanding what you want
  • Self regulation: controlling your feelings
  • Motivation: having the energy and commitment to do something
  • Empathy: understanding how others feel
  • Social skills: being able to get on with others

Working through these five dimensions and assessing your competence in each will give you a more rounded view of yourself and your own passion. And that will help you to share that passion more easily using the techniques in the subsequent chapters.

Finally, being personally emotionally intelligent may not be enough to achieve the fundraising result you want. Look to use your influencing skills to recruit and involve other people with high EI in your staff and volunteer teams. These people can be a huge asset when it comes to achieving your fundraising result.

And if you need to organise people for a mass event find and use what Malcolm Gladwell calls connectors – individuals able to draw in large numbers to assist. You can also help people to become connectors using Roberta’s Rules.

This blog draws on material from Bernard Ross’ and Clare Segal’s book The Influential Fundraiser, published by Wiley 2008.

[1] There’s a significant body of work, published by the Center for Applied Emotional Intelligence that suggests a high level of EI is a key factor in success. For the past four years (2005-2008) we have been running a survey among high achieving fundraisers at the Association of Fundraising Professional’s (AFP) annual international conference. To date successful fundraisers (15+ years of experience) score an average 10-14% higher than average on the EI scale.

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