In the development office, Nonprofit Careers

The Clothes Make the Fundraiser


In this month’s San Diego Magazine, Tim Gunn (Fashion Guru and host of Project Runway) was quoted:


I always say, “I’d much rather be overdressed [than underdressed]. Better to be overdressed and showing respect for whatever the occasion!”


In the fundraising world, it pays to be and look professional.  Your job as a fundraiser is to communicate the cause of your organization in a professional and concise way to potential funders. This includes a well thought-through proposal, packet and other documents as well as a well-researched cultivation and solicitation approach. AND showing up dressed like a business professional.


If you dress up, it sends a message to the donor that they are important and that you are there to see them on business. Yes, our goal is to build a relationship with the donor, but the prospective donor must believe in the nonprofit’s work and you are there to instill that faith.


It also sends a message to your boss that you are professional and the right person to take on donor calls. You help make a good impression on the donor on behalf of the organization.


I wear a suit (or equivalent) almost every time I see a client. Why? Because I am expected to be the fundraising expert and I show up looking like I fit the role. As a fundraiser, I would encourage you to do the same.


I am amazed at how often nonprofit professionals do not show up looking professional.


Last week, I witnessed two candidates walking into a job interview for a national major gifts position. One candidate was wearing a sharp suit, tie and collared shirt. The other candidate was wearing Capri pants, an untucked collared button down shirt and sandals. Who do YOU think got the job?


My advice:

  1. Dress professional. Everyday. Especially on the days you see donors.
  2. Be the best-dressed person at the party (or meeting).
  3. Don’t dress for the job you have, dress a step up for the next level job you want.

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