Menu Close

Getting Aligned with the Missionary Position

nun holding child

Are you a fundraising Mercenary or Missionary?

These two fundamental leadership styles have direct application to the advancement work you do. They are both effective and valuable, but it is important to know which you are, and how it aligns with the responsibilities of your position.

Thanks to Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor’s latest book “Simply Brilliant,” I came upon Kleiner Perkins Cauflield and Byers chairman John Doerr’s definition of an entrepreneur:

“Someone who does more than anyone thinks is possible with less than anyone thinks is possible.”


This sounds to me like the circumstances faced by stakeholder nonprofit organizations and their leaders.

Furthermore, Doerr submits there are two kinds of entrepreneurs — Mercenaries and Missionaries.

Adapting Doerr’s definitions to the fundraising world we find that:


Mercenaries are “opportunistic.” They are all about the pitch and closing the gift, eager to sprint to the short-term pay off.

Missionaries are “strategic.” They are about the big idea, as well as, finding meaning and partnerships that last. They understand that forming partnerships and reaching goals take time.


Mercenaries focus on budgets, financial statements and statistics.

Missionaries focus on donors and constituents, while fretting over value statements.


Mercenaries strive for success, motivated by drive.

Missionaries aspire to success and significance, motivated by passion.


Where do you see yourself?


I would argue that leadership positions in an advancement office should be tailored by each leadership type:

Events, Annual Giving, Operations, Finance, and Planning — Mercenary

Stewardship, Major Gifts, Campaigns and Volunteers — Missionary

Chief Advancement Officer — Mercenary, leaning towards Missionary


Are you properly aligned with your position?

Is your personal mission properly aligned with the mission of your organization?

Are you finding out the right things about the people you hire, before you hire them?


The answers to these questions may help to explain why you (or your staff) are happy and successful in your job, or why you are neither.


Your takes:

1. Know what kind of leader you are and work to refine your strengths.

2. Take stock of your personal mission and tendencies. Why are you on this planet? Revisit the alignment of your organization’s mission, with your position.

3. Look beyond the advancement field to find knowledge and inspiration that can help you in your job.



  1. Steven Biondolillo

    Excellent post, Larry! Very nice adaptation of the Doerr quote. The one thing I’d push back on is the unqualified categorization of Special-Event Fundraising as “mercenary.” When categorizing many event fundraisers, I believe you’re correct. But when categorizing the best special-event fundraisers, you’d have to place them in the “missionary” column, because everything about them–from mission-focused participant qualification, to high-touch donor outreach technique, to mission-focused day-of production values, to disciplined post-event donor stewardship and continued engagement–is designed with long-term development in mind! Thanks, again, for posting! -Steven Biondolillo

  2. Larry Raff

    Steve, You would know best given your exemplary successes over the years at producing landmark events. Thanks for your feedback and perspective.

  3. Elena Brandt, Brandt Associates

    As always, your posts are well-timed and align with my thinking.

    Thanks for providing this forum.

    -Elena Brandt

Comments are closed.