CDE project 14 sec­tion 1: our approach and putting the prin­ci­ples and actions into practice

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 29, 2017

Our approach

“We give to you because of the way you treat us.” A corporate donor

Donors don’t want to deal with spreadsheet-proficient career fundraisers whose skills are readily transferrable between causes and who see fundraising as just another form of selling. It is vital that the people who fundraise are donor-focused. All the techniques in the world are nothing without the relationship between a fundraiser and the donor. The fundraiser communicates the urgency and importance of their cause and offers the donor a way to contribute in whatever way s/he is moved to make an impact.

To test our assumptions about the attributes of donor-focused fundraisers, where they are found and how they can be retained, we used the following methodology:

  • Our profiling tool – Insights Discovery – has been used by a wide range of fundraisers over 16 years; thus, we used it to look for patterns in preferred behaviour.
  • Our experience of working with fundraisers for over 30 years.
  • One-to-one interviews with fundraising directors, fundraising managers and fundraisers themselves.
  • Small focus groups.
  • A survey of our fundraising contacts.
  • Professional research via Dr Beth Breeze.

Putting the principles and actions into practice

The following are examples of some of our recommendations and observations in action from the people we met, current contacts and clients, and what we have seen across the sector.

Medium-sized animal welfare charity – a networked director and strategic HR

The fundraising management team regularly brings their HR partner into their operational and strategic meetings. This means that, when recruitment is needed, HR is completely immersed in the type of person who is being sought and how that role fits into the strategy. HR interacts regularly with the entire team and thus understand the working context, the language fundraisers use and their approach and attitude. This makes recruitment more focused, and HR can contribute more effectively in interviews.

The director networks extensively on social media and the IOF, which promotes the charity as a great place to work. Jobs are advertised via social media contacts, as well as through conventional channels. The team is also very successful and has won many awards, which makes the charity attractive to job seekers.

Quick review of job adverts

Many job adverts do not focus on donor-centred skills. The typical advert is about the organisation, the fundraising technique and the raising of money.

Some examples of adverts that use donor-centred language are:

Save the Children

“Our Marketing, Fundraising and Communications department exists to inspire millions of people – from individuals to large corporate organisations – to support our quest for change.”

Red Cross

 “You will support the development of supporter-led strategies to maximise lifetime value. And when disasters strike, you'll play a leading role in launching our emergency appeals.”

Freedom from Torture

“Your great relationship skills will ensure you open doors for Freedom from Torture”

Where to advertise

Cancer Research UK is well known for widening the net of potential fundraisers. The charity actively encourages people from all walks of life to apply if they have the core attributes required. The charity also have a highly regarded internship programme that is structured to attract graduates and take them through a development programme that includes experience in fundraising – in other words, they ‘grow their own’ fundraisers. 

A review of the Alzheimer’s Society’s web site reveals a great showcase that explains why working for them is wonderful. The job page has information about what development the society offers, the benefits of working there and case studies of existing staff.

The interview

Whilst interviewing a fundraising director for our project, he realised that asking a donor-centred interview question is something he had not considered in the past – he asked:

“Can you give me an example of when you have listened to someone and really met their needs?”

This can be asked of any candidate regardless of his or her fundraising experience, and s/he can provide valid evidence of the required attributes.


We know of many organisations that actively train their managers in good practice pertaining to managing performance, from setting objectives and one-to-one encounters to developing staff, such as Cancer Research UK, Marie Curie, Save the Children, and the Alzheimer’s Society, to name a few. They all use learning and development to embed good management practices to create a motivational environment and build strong teams.

Cancer Research UK has a well-established development programme for their local fundraising managers, which includes a solid induction, volunteer management skills and communication skills

Red Cross, Save the Children, Crohn’s and Colitis UK, Alzheimer’s Society, Mind, Marie Curie and ActionAid are examples of organisations that actively use behavioural models to enable fundraisers to build better and stronger relationships, as well as to enable managers to flex their communication styles to meet the needs of staff.

Shelter used team coaching to enable the heads of fundraising to form a self-managed team, which fostered trust and cross-team working across their division. This developed leadership skills, as well as providing a strategic outlook for these managers.

The Outward Bound Trust has developed a very strong leadership team that fully embraces fundraising as part of the mix. The trust has done this by working on team dynamics and regularly health-checking their performance as a team, which they see as a vital part of their success. The director of fundraising cascades this approach down to his senior team to ensure the members are able to function at a strategic level with their colleagues across the trust.

Links to other projects

The main link is to the CDE project 17, Leadership. It is clear from discussion with the project leader that fundraisers grow and thrive in an environment of enablement and empowerment. The analogy is one of a gardener growing people, which means paying attention to creating a motivational culture in which fundraisers can thrive.

Click on the image below to view project 14 in full - PDF format.

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

Related case studies or articles

CDE project 14 summary: getting the right people as fundraisers

This project will consider the attributes that donors expect to see in the fundraisers they deal with and how recruiting specifically with those attributes in mind will significantly improve the donor experience.

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CDE project 14: appendix 1

Here is the full lists of attributes of a donor-focused fundraiser drawn from the surveys and focus groups we conducted.

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CDE project 14: appendix 2 and 3

Examples of donor-centred behaviour in fundraisers as described to us by those we interviewed.

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CDE project 14 appendix 4: insight profiling

Insight Discovery is a model that measures behavioural preferences. It uses a system of four colours to describe different styles of behaviour.

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