Improving fundraising is a never-ending quest for nonprofit leaders. But recent research shows a startling discovery on how to make your fundraising better.

In “The Wake Up Call,” researchers Dr. Adrian Sargeant and Harriet Day researched leadership styles and their connection to successful fundraising. In the course of their research, they made a remarkable finding:

Organizations that

  • undertook higher quality strategic planning
  • undertook higher quality succession planning
  • were more completely meeting the development needs of their leaders

were significantly more likely to have a strong culture of philanthropy.

Strategic planning, succession planning, and meeting the development needs of their leaders.

If I had been asked, I would’ve said fundraising training or meeting with more donors or getting better at asking. No doubt all those are good. But those three internal, organizational systems in a nonprofit made it significantly more likely that nonprofit would have a strong culture of philanthropy.

Want to get better at fundraising? Commit to leadership development

Wake Up Call - Strong Culture of PhilanthropyNonprofit work is hard. Rewarding, but hard. And it can feel odd taking time out to read books or work on your personal leadership abilities.

But not focusing on leadership is clearly not working:

  • In CompassPoint’s UnderDeveloped and in a more recent study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, show that more than 50% of fundraisers want to leave their job in less than two years.
  • And in The Wake Up Call, 67% of nonprofit CEOs say they were planning on leaving their position in the next five years.

Worse, only 41% of people surveyed in The Wake Up Call reported having identified a potential future leader for their nonprofit. So high percentages of people are leaving with no one to fill their role.

And vacant positions aren’t positions that are raising money.

Develop leaders – including yourself

While strategic planning and succession planning are important, they can be hard and costly to do well. So developing quality leadership development might be the best of the three to start.

There are so many resources for leadership development now. You can hire an executive coach for yourself or your team. You can get a membership in training group. Or you can commit to learning every day. Reading a book. Watching a training. Talking with a colleague.

The options are limitless. But you’ll have the growing confidence that the consistent effort of investing in leadership growth will actively help your fundraising.

Additional Resources

To download a copy of The Wake Up Call, go to

If you want an introduction to the six areas I suggest you focus on, check out this clip on what I call “Quadrant 3 Leadership” from a recent keynote:

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