The characteristics of high performing teams (that lead to success in fundraising)

Two businesswomen discussing work over a cup of coffee

1. Clear and aligned purpose.

It’s easy to bring someone onto your team whose job description includes fundraising, but think bigger.


Find people who are invested in and understand your organisation’s mission and vision.


What will their work achieve? Just as you want to your donors to know the impact of their dollars, make sure your staff (and board) understand their impact. Making those connections for your team will motivate them.


A team with a strong sense of purpose – where everybody is working toward the same goals and understands how they contribute to the bigger picture – will achieve results.

2. Clear roles and responsibilities.

Employees and managers in high performing teams understand what is required of them and how they should work together to reach their goals.


Encourage each member of your team to set tangible goals with timelines – there’s a significant difference between asking a member of your team to “do some outreach” and to “reach out to 15 people this week to ask them to support our new program”.


By creating concrete action items, team members will be accountable for their contributions. Goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

3. Build trust through relationships.

Take the time to truly get to know your team and what motivates them.


Trust is at basis of all partnerships, but it can take time to develop. No matter your position title, you should positively encourage the work you wish to see.


Celebrate successes and give everyone a chance to do the work and tasks they especially enjoy.


Demonstrate empathy and compassion, especially when evaluating work.


When people trust in each other and in the team’s purpose, they’ll feel comfortable expressing their feelings and ideas, open about their mistakes and weaknesses.

4. Communicate and collaborate.

Communication is about more than sending an all-staff email.


Great teams communicate beyond the usual organisational tactics and channels.


They share ideas, feelings and opinions with kindness and honesty. They ask questions and provide their own perspectives.


Great teams also celebrate their strength and power as a team. They collaborate often, leveraging each other’s skills to strategise, plan, implement and evaluate.


Decision-making is left mostly to the team, with managers facilitating and enabling, providing collaborative tools for the team to make decisions, solve problems and create plans.

5. Appreciate and encourage diverse thinking

High performing teams have qualities and characteristics that bind them, but they are far from homogenous.


The best teams embrace and capitalise on their diversity, taking opportunities to learn from each other and widen their perspectives.


They understand and celebrate each other’s strengths, skills, talents and quirks.


Recruit people with different backgrounds, experiences and world views – your organisation will be the better for it.

6. Manage conflict constructively

Transparency is instrumental to building a healthy professional relationship.


Work hard to enable a culture where everyone – management and staff – feels comfortable speaking frankly and honestly with each other.


Equally important is allowing teams to express worries and frustrations without fear of repercussion, and to diffuse tension in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.


Criticism should be constructive and oriented toward problem solving and removing obstacles. Conflict is not about proving who’s right and who’s wrong, but about coming to a resolution together.

7. Learn and adapt.

Even the best teams have room to grow. Successful teams take the time to listen. They listen to their donors, patrons and audiences, they listen to their board, they listen to their staff, their volunteers and to other organisations.


They also value feedback and learn from their mistakes. A feedback-oriented organisational culture allows people to give and receive clear, productive, sensitive feedback about any aspect of the organisation.


It can be hard to take time to properly evaluate campaigns and programs, but many of the most successful organisations take a few days each month to focus on data gathering, analysis and evaluation. Collecting and learning from data and research leads to better practices and programs that meet the needs of donors, staff, artists and audiences.


Investing in ongoing employee growth and development is equally important. Identify opportunities that focus on team needs and priorities, as well as individual goals to make them feel motivated, empowered, and better equipped to do their job.