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Playing to Your Strengths

By Mary Walker, Petrus Blog Contributor

I love the late winter —the time when football season isn’t quite over, and basketball season is ramping up. There are WAY MORE games on TV than are good for me to watch! 


On any team, players have “basic” responsibilities, but are also specialists. Each player has to master the rules and skills of the game, such as passing, dribbling, and shooting. Each player is also an expert in a particular position. A basketball point guard is a nimble person who directs the play, protects the ball, and gets the ball to the best player in position to score. A center is a tall player who plays near the basket, focuses on close shots, and gets rebounds. 


Does the point guard occasionally rebound? Yes, but that’s not what a point guard is for. A point guard’s time is best spent on perfecting the responsibilities of that position and trusting teammates to do the same. 


The “game” of fundraising is similar. Although there are the basics of the profession (see here for a 4-part overview), we all bring different strengths. The Harvard Business Review and career counselors suggest that developing your strengths is probably a better investment of your time than working on your weaknesses. In other words, you’ll be more effective as a fundraiser if you keep getting better at what you are already good at.


If you’ve ever been on a call with a true extrovert, a person who is energized by entering a room not knowing anybody and leaving the same room with the contact information of some new friends, you’ve seen a certain strength in action. Maybe YOU are that extrovert!


Not every fundraiser has this strength, but every fundraiser has strengths! Through my own career development, I’ve learned how to operate in that room, but I’ll never be as comfortable or as skilled as my extrovert colleagues. It would be silly for me to aspire to that—I’m just not an extrovert. My time and energy are better spent on the tasks of fundraising that play to my strengths: planning strategies; analyzing data; writing appeal letters and case statements; speaking to potential benefactors one-on-one and drawing out their stories.


You probably know your own strengths. We tend to like the things that we are naturally good at and enjoy improving those skills. If you aren’t sure what your strengths are, you can take one of the many available career assessment tools, reflect on your life’s experiences, or simply ask friends and mentors. 


I’d also add the caveat that there ARE basics to the development profession, just as there are basic skills needed for every sport. Even if we aren’t GREAT or comfortable executing each of the basics, we have to learn enough to manage these responsibilities and get any other support we need to be effective.  Some of the basics of fundraising include: making the “ask;” cold calling and asking for appointments; working with different personalities; and listening, just to name a few. 


However, we all have special skills and talents. We are better at some things than others. Also, we are better at many things than most other people. Let’s do what we are good at and empower others to do the same.


St. Paul understood this in ministry. As an apostle, he played up his strengths as he introduced Jesus to the Gentiles. For the Church to grow, St. Paul had to promote the promise of salvation through Jesus AND bring in more disciples to do the same. I’ve always envisioned St. Paul as a fiery, passionate visionary—the kind of guy who inspires ACTION. He does not strike me as a “detail” person. Yet, he realized that the new Church needed gifts he personally did not have. It takes special skills to organize and operate churches in different communities among different cultures.


“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Cor. 4-7)


As you plan your fundraising year, a good exercise is to see if the members of your development team are playing to their strengths. Are everybody’s responsibilities aligned with what they are good at? Should some changes be made? 


It’s easier to divide the responsibilities in a larger development team. However, if you are the only development professional for your ministry, you will have to assume the role of player-coach. NOBODY in your ministry is exempt from fundraising responsibilities. This is simply because EVERYBODY in your ministry has responsibility toward its solvency and growth. Without funding, no ministry or parish will survive, let alone grow and thrive.  


What fundraising best practices play to your strengths? 


What strengths can others in your organization bring to the ministry of fundraising? 


Bonus: Last weekend I saw The Boys in the Boat. That movie is this blog post in action—and there is even a fundraising component! Great book too. See the trailer!



Are you curious about how your personality strengths and weaknesses might affect your fundraising?  If so, check out Petrus Development's free personality assessment resource.   Click HERE to access this helpful resource.



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