Why is Critical Thinking an Important Fundraising Skill?

3 minute read

Charities couldn’t exist without fundraisers. Their expertise underpins everything we do―and allows us to carry on doing it, even in the most difficult economic climate.

But fundraising is too often seen as purely about being ‘good at sales.’ And while communication and drive are key fundraising skills, there’s a lot more to it than that. More than anything, a charity fundraiser needs to use critical thinking so that they can do their job with complete integrity.

Why is Critical Thinking an Important Fundraising Skill?

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking means proactively using reason and evidence to make an informed judgement, instead of simply accepting an argument or an established way of doing things. As a fundraising skill specifically it can mean, for example, taking learnings from what has and hasn’t worked in previous campaigns rather than copying them unchanged.

Critical thinking is based on theory and evidence. This means a successful charity fundraiser needs to be:

  • analytical
  • creative
  • open-minded
  • problem-solving
  • reflective
  • questioning
  • communicative
  • decisive.

They need to use a combination of these qualities to create original fundraising campaigns, based on a thorough understanding of what makes people donate to a particular charity.

Why is Critical Thinking an Important Fundraising Skill?

Translating complicated ideas into simple messages

A campaign’s success can depend on a fundraising team’s ability to make complex research easily understandable for potential donors. This is true whether they’re working with major corporations or legacies, or they’re trying to drum up support on the high street in a branded t-shirt and a charity tin.

For all these contexts, fundraisers use critical thinking to extract the important messages and communicate them in a clear and engaging way.


Knowing your donors

Donors need to feel good about giving. So, a charity fundraiser will work hard to help them get the most meaning and satisfaction from their donations.

It’s a relationship that a fundraiser will develop and nurture over time. They’ll use their knowledge of donor behaviour—as well the psychology of giving—to create and finesse a campaign idea. They’ll make sure it fits with what they know about why people want to give to this specific charity. If a fundraiser thinks their donors won’t buy into a campaign, then it won’t work.


Why is Critical Thinking an Important Fundraising Skill?

How do you sharpen your critical thinking?

Whether you’re looking to break into charity fundraising or you’re an experienced fundraiser already, it’s essential to see yourself as a work in progress. Take responsibility for your own personal development by sharpening your fundraising skills, in particular critical thinking:

  • Keep up to date with your charity’s work and its current priorities. Build relationships across departments so that you’re on top of the latest research and policy initiatives and know who to ask when you need more explanation.
  • Stay abreast of sector developments by reading fundraising news on sites like The Guardian, Third Sector, The Chartered Institute of Fundraising… and us at CharityJob and CharityConnect. Find out what sector networking events you can attend.
  • Know what the competition is doing. Not so that you can copy it, but so that you can learn from the good stuff and be aware of areas of sensitivity.
  • Initiate brainstorming sessions for your team and invite key people from other departments.
  • Look outside the sector for inspiration. Are there talks or events that could inspire new ways of thinking?
  • Take time to review your own personal successes and failures. What could you do better and what’s holding you back from doing your best?
  • Research courses and training opportunities for the field your charity works in as well as courses in personal development skills like creative thinking and communications skills. Find out too about the qualifications available from our partners, the Chartered Institute of Fundraising.

Fundraising is a job that allows individuals to shine. Make it your own by arming yourself with critical thinking – the fundraising skill that will allow you to operate as your best self. In this way, you can be a successful fundraiser while building rewarding long-term relationships with donors and supporters.

Ready to put your fundraising skills to use? Take a look at some of the exciting opportunities available on CharityJob today.


This post was originally published in 2019. We’ve updated it to ensure relevance and to reflect the current jobseeker experience.

Jean Merrylees

Jean Merrylees is a freelance content writer and editor who has previously written for the BBC. Jean is now taking her first steps into the charity sector after spending some time writing for both Diabetes UK & CharityJob.

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