Many gift officers come into the development profession via a winding route, one that often includes encouragement from others expressing, “You’d be good at this!” Typically, the good-with-people trait is associated with extroverts—those individuals who love to hang out with others and shine as the life of the party. Scratch the quiet surface of an introvert, however, and you’ll discover many traits make this personality type especially well-suited as a professional fundraiser.
Before exploring the traits that would serve an introvert well in a fundraising career, we should mention the one thing an introvert isn’t: antisocial. True, they would rather not hang out with crowds of people, but that doesn’t mean introverts don’t like people—they just don’t enjoy socializing in large groups. This preference for keeping the company of only a few at a time makes the introvert especially good at listening and cultivating relationships. And introverts enjoy being around people when the group is focused around a goal or a specific problem to solve.
The quiet demeanor of an introvert often reflects an individual who is thought-oriented—a quality that introverts can harness in teasing out the strands of a complex challenge and putting specific strategies in place to address those challenges. Research shows that introverts receive better grades in school. Those same skills that make them “good” at school translate well into the world of working with donors.
For example, when it comes to listening, introverts like to internalize what has been said, taking time to process the facts and nuances of the conversation rather than worrying about what they are going to say next—a skill that’s particularly useful in helping potential donors discover their passions. That quiet, thoughtful nature can be leveraged to a position of power—when introverts do contribute to the conversation, people listen. A quiet nature can also aid in being circumspect and confidential, two skills that can enhance the effectiveness of the development professional.
Because introverts are less sensitive overall to external rewards, they can focus more fully on strategy, effectively managing the uncertainty that can come in working with potential donors. Another benefit of being more focused on strategy is that the introvert doesn’t fall prey as often to self-defeating impulses. Rather than being worried that a lack of movement on a potential donor’s part is due to something they are or aren’t doing, an introvert might instead work on fine-tuning the strategy. Albert Einstein, who was known for his tendencies toward introversion once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s that I stay with problems longer.”
A study done at the Wharton School of Business noted that introverted bosses were more successful when their employees were proactive in generating ideas to increase productivity and solve other problems in the workplace. Because these bosses had less concern for external measures such as position and status, they felt comfortable letting their employees play a role in problem-solving. A development professional who has introverted traits might be best paired with a potential donor who is eager to take an active role in the process of making a contribution.
Introverts should be aware of the pitfalls this personality trait can bring to fundraising. Because of their introspective nature, introverts are comfortable taking measured risks, but they don’t like taking big risks—which can lead to overthinking situations. Introverts need solitude to recharge, so they would do well to schedule a mix of group tasks and tasks that can be done alone. Because their more extroverted colleagues might feel rejected when introverts decline to “hang out” with them, introverts can avoid a misunderstanding through drawing a comparison—just as extroverts recharge by being around people, introverts recharge through time alone.
The good news is there is no such thing as a “bad” personality profile. Extroverts and introverts alike can have successful careers in philanthropy. The secret to success is knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your personality profile and how these will affect interactions with donors and colleagues.
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