Tips for Thriving as an Introvert in Fundraising

If you are wondering if you can make it in fundraising if you are an introvert, do not fear! Here are a few tips and observations from a few well-established career fundraisers who identify as introverts (but may or may not appear to be introverts in the context you meet them). It is not unusual to find quite a few secret and not-so-secret introverts alongside the extroverts in your fundraising office. If you’re an introvert who knows how to manage what you need to thrive, you can even work “against type” when you choose to, and be in your element.

Paul Nazareth, Vice President, Education & Development, Canadian Association of Gift Planners, and previously with Canada Helps, puts fundraising roles and activities on a continuum, “from most comfortable for ‘innie’ personality styles toward more ‘outie’ personality styles —I would say Research (data base analysis, prospect research) at one end most comfortable for introverts through Writing-Marketing (direct mail and other copy) to Writing-Fundraising (grant-writing, corporate fundraising, proposals to support major gift asks) somewhere in the middle to Face-to-face (annual> planned > major gifts) and at the extrovert end, Special Events.”

But there’s more to consider when introverts are looking to create a good fit.

Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking says, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love or anything they value highly. And Paul says, “really, I think we’re all forced ambiverts,” and draws my attention to Daniel H. Pink’s work on this idea and his book, To Sell is Human. Take Pink’s quiz on-line and see where his analysis will place you. (Although I test clearly as an introvert according to a number of assessments, the Pink quiz says I perform in the world as an ambivert.)

“Still,” Paul says in our interview, “if you want to be doing roles in fundraising more comfortable for extroverts, such as events, you can do it, but if you want to sustain your energy for a thriving career, and not be drained as you work against type, you will need to manage your time and energy with intention.”

“Susan Cain says, manage your energy and manage the operational side of what you do. So for me, this is my superpower getting to speak and be an educator. So what I learned, now as I’m getting older and speaking more and doing it at a higher level—keynotes, what I find is I’ve got to be ‘hyper on’ and then, ‘hyper off.’ And actually the best thing for me is to do is a big keynote to a thousand people, and then get into a hotel room, turn the lights off and be still for a couple of hours: full recharge. So this is the thing, if you can decide the off and on, it’s all about pacing.”

Paul does a lot of travelling, speaking, meeting with groups and individuals, and advising. Over the weekends he “puts the gadgets by the door” as he comes home, and is “super vigilant to be present with his family especially as he has young kids. He also says he does most of his impressive social media communication through scheduled posts once a week. And though he live tweets from special events, “everything else is on rails.”

“We may need to be on all platforms, and be super reachable — text, DM, everything. But you don’t have to respond right away. Someone might say, ‘Paul, I texted you!’ [And I’ll say,] ‘Yes, I responded today.’ That’s just the way it’s going to work. We have to set the pace.”

Paula Attfield is Chair of AFP Canada and President of Stephen Thomas with more than 20 years experience in fundraising marketing for non-profits. Before running her organization she said she knew early on that she loved writing copy—where she’s able to connect emotionally to a cause, and connect donors to a cause (thank you letters, appeal letters, researching and writing a case for support…) Nowadays she’s writing strategy and running a company.

And her time-tested strategies for keeping her energy reservoirs from getting depleted? She admits to closing her office door when she wants to get work done on a project and finding a quiet place alone, away from her office to check emails on her phone just to be in a quiet headspace. Taking time alone in the morning before work and then walking to the office, and taking lunch away from her desk are ways she gets the space and time for processing and regenerating so she can be most productive and creative.

Regarding managing energy and career over the long term? Paula says to speak up in the office regarding projects and work you want to be involved in. She has often changed roles to suit her need to be intellectually engaged. And every once in a while she does a “Stop—Start—Continue ” checklist, checking in with herself regarding the things she’s including in her life.

Introverts need breaks: make sure you take vacations and have meaningful downtime. Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Introvert Advantage writes that introverts produce high quality work that is often original, well thought through and addressing the needs of the organizational goals. But they need more time to refresh and recharge. Feeling guilty or confused about taking a break – maybe even a little shame at needing a break? Daniel Pink in his book When, makes the pitch for everyone to benefit from taking lunch breaks away from work and short naps!

Darius Maze, on the Board for AFP Foundation–Canada, and an active member of AFP International’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) committee is also an introvert.

When I ask him where his strengths shine in fundraising, he says one example is how he loves “working with databases, understanding the intricacies, getting the details right, the back end stuff.” Another is that during hectic periods like events and end of year appeals, “my quiet planning and strategizing allows me to stay calm and collected as I support others.”

I ask him, when in fundraising he has felt most productive and energized? He laughs and says, “I may be an introvert but I actually like high pressure situations, where you know I’ve got this, this, this and this…and I know I’ve done this thing, this thing, this thing—which is going to set the rest of the team up for success. So, I’ve really thought through our mission and how it syncs with our donors and I’ve put together the best possible direct mail campaign. And so that goes out, and maybe it’s another part of the team who will take it from there. For me it is nailing the donor analysis, nailing the direct mail, nailing the execution.”

Talking to Darius, you hear the enthusiasm and energy as he speaks. Make no mistake, introverts can be demonstrably passionate about the work they do in fundraising and who they are doing it for – supporting and leading teams to really make a difference in our communities through the great work our organizations are able to achieve.

Let no organization you work for miss out on the gifts you have to offer.

Marti Olsen Laney, says practice telling your own story a bit more – what you are contributing – and share your ideas, including finding ways to support your working style in the work place.

Over the last few years, thanks to Susan Cain’s call for a Quiet Revolution, there is much more awareness of the value of introverts in all fields. Cain has helped highlight how the background culture of North America favouring the extravert personality and not recognizing and nurturing the particular strengths of a significant introvert minority of the population (more than 30%), is a serious loss to all organizations.

A common theme in talking to successful fundraising introverts has been to know yourself well; and be comfortable to act from your strengths; and manage your energy the way you need to for the long haul— because the rewards in fundraising are many. Not the least of which is a great community of supportive professional colleagues.

My thanks to AFP members Paul, Paula and Darius, who graciously spent time with me to offer personal examples and insights to broaden our awareness about introverts thriving in an extravert profession.