Jerold Panas shares some lessons he's learned in his richly rewarding 40-year journey in fundraising. There are bits and pieces about his profession and what skills and attributes make a great fundraiser as well as what motivates a person to make a gift to your organization.

To subscribe to Jerry's weekly Thoughts on Philanthropy posts, click here. See below for a sampling. [Updated regularly.]


The most important communication skill of a fundraiser is that of listening. It is listening that truly inspires the gift.

Listening is not passive. It requires a tremendous amount of energy.

You have heard about people who talk too much. But you have never heard of anyone who listens too much. In fundraising, it is impossible to listen too much. It is what wins the gift. Your job is to listen so intently that you listen as if you are hard of hearing.

What a person wants most in life is to be heard. If you do all the talking, you’re in the spotlight, not the other person.

You are the spark that ignites the blaze. You are the professional who makes it happen.

You Must Ask

When we ask men and women why they haven’t given to the organization, the single, most often repeated answer is— they weren’t asked.

At some point, you must ask for the gift. That’s what it’s all about. Keep in mind, some men and women are ready to give right now. They simply haven’t been asked.

They are not referring to requests they receive regularly in the mail. Or the call from a student. They want to be asked by a staff member or a volunteer.

Never Be Satisfied

The successful fundraiser is not easily satisfied. Only the very best will do.

There are those who are satisfied with ho-hum work and weary professional lives. If they are comfortable and content with uninspired professional production and are willing to settle for so-so results– they will not be among the great fundraisers.

For the successful fundraiser, they live in a constant state of dissatisfaction. They want to win. They feel it deep down. They understand that to be a good loser is to be a loser.

A Raging Determination and Drive

The successful fundraiser believes that patience is not necessarily a virtue. They pull up the roots to see if the flowers are still growing. They are seldom satisfied with progress that isn’t on a fast track.

They are “itchy” by nature. The successful ones do not suffer easily standing still or treading water. It’s the race they savor. And most of all, winning the race.

Not everyone might agree. But patience is not an ideal or a worthy attribute. The great fundraisers have a raging determination and drive. There is an undisciplined fervor for the fray and fire.

It's Common Sense

To be a great fundraiser, it is essential you have common sense. There is a major difference between the non-achiever and the peak performer. It’s not high intelligence.

It’s common sense. Being street savvy. And trusting your instincts.

As far as common sense is concerned, nothing succeeds like excess. You can’t have enough. You can’t have too much.


By stewardship, I mean relating donors directly to the impact of their philanthropy. That means having them understand how important their gifts are.

Next in importance to getting the gift is providing effective stewardship. Donors need to feel the WOW effect.

Gift Receipts

Receipts for a gift must be sent from the organization to the donor within 24 hours. 48 hours at the most.

In today’s world, with all the electronics at hand, why should it take longer? For $1000 donors, a phone call. Even for $100 donors. For first-time donors, a phone call at any dollar level.

Make Your Board Request Compelling and Urgent

I talked with dozens of men and women who were asked to serve on a board. They declined. I asked why.

They told me they decided not to serve on the board because the person who asked failed to make the request compelling and urgent. They made it too easy. It wasn’t challenging enough.

The Joy and Reward of Fundraising

The successful fundraisers love calling on people. It’s in their DNA.

They enjoy all aspects of their work. But calling on people, confronting them with the immense opportunity to share in great works and deeds— for the successful ones, that’s the pinnacle.

Ahh, this is the life. This is what it’s all about. This is the joy. This is the reward. Having others join you in your great cause.

Fundraisers Need Boundless Energy

To be successful in our work, it takes great energy. There must be vigor and vitality that is undeniable and indefatigable. The successful fundraisers seem to be able to endure a staggering workload, hour after joyous hour.

All of the great fundraisers I’ve known have exhibited boundless energy. All were like tightly wound wire, ready to spring.

Donors seek fundraisers with energy. They respond to them. It’s infectious.

There are times when it means that you have to push against your own sense of endurance until a surge of energy takes you beyond what you thought was ever possible. Joe White, former President of the University of Illinois, says, “There are days you have to wind yourself up.”