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The T-Shirt Folding Fundraising Leadership Test

Take-away: Don’t overlook introverts when hiring your next development director.

“You have the fundraising gene.”

I get that a lot from friends and acquaintances. What they mean is, “You’re extraverted, outgoing and not afraid to ask.”

They’re wrong.

I am an extravert, but my confidence and skill come from decades of professional experience. When I started my career, I was so scared I had to smoke a cigarette before I could summon up the courage to get on the phone to ask someone to volunteer. Not to give. Just to volunteer.

I know. Cigarettes in the office. This was decades ago.

Adam Grant, Wharton Professor and author of Give and Take, conducted an interesting experiment of introverted and extraverted leaders.[i] He asked college students to work in groups to see how many T-shirts they could fold in 10 minutes, using techniques that would predispose some participants to behave proactively.

Grant reported his findings. “The groups with proactive followers performed better under an introverted leader—folding, on average, 28% more T-shirts. The extroverted leaders appeared threatened by and unreceptive to proactive employees. The introverted leaders listened carefully and made employees feel valued, motivating them to work hard.”

We often assume the best development directors are extraverts, but are they?

According to an Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) study, 46% of the development professionals who responded were introverts;[ii] 54% were extraverts. That’s not an overwhelming difference. I’ve worked with superb fundraisers on both ends of the introversion/extraversion spectrum.

It’s increasingly hard to find and retain development directors. Underdeveloped, A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising,[iii] found development directors expected to leave their jobs, on average, in less than two years and that 40% expected to leave the field entirely. Once vacated, development director positions remained unfilled for 6 months or more.

Don’t overlook reserved candidates in your search for the perfect development director.

Remember the t-shirt folding experiment.


[i] Harvard Business Review, December 2010, Adam Grant, The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses.

[ii] Just Your Type…or Not? Robert Fogal, Ph.D., CFRE, Fall 2015 issue, AFP’s Advancing Philanthropy.


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