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December 4, 2021
Hiring the Right Fundraiser in a New Economic Reality
By Ellen Sibley

Ellen Sibley
Ellen Sibley
Nonprofit organizations are facing tremendous financial challenges in this new economy: funding is being cut dramatically sector-wide, invested funds are skydiving in their value, and donors are losing large percentages of their fortunes. Hiring the right fundraiser becomes more important than ever.

As a result, nonprofits are going to be more cautious about hiring new employees. In this new economy, nonprofits cannot afford to hire an ineffective development professional, whether at the chief development officer level or as a development associate. These best practices will help ensure that your hire is right for your organization.
  • Write a clear position description that outlines why your organization is “the place to be” right now. List challenges the successful candidate will face during the first 12 to 18 months. Be honest; do not exaggerate your funding future, but don’t draw an overly desperate picture, either. Development professionals need to know the expectations in order to be successful.
  • Look for candidates with staying power when evaluating resumes. A successful development professional must stay at an organization for three to five years in order to be involved in the full cycle of a high-end ask, which includes prospecting, the ask, receiving the donation, and properly acknowledging the gift.
  • During your phone interview, ask the candidate why he/she likes fundraising. In any economic time, successful fundraisers will be the ones who are passionate about the task and love it. In these uncertain times, however, you’ll need one who loves it enough to stick with it even when the going gets tough.
  • Ask candidates to describe the whole process of an ask, using their proudest (even if not their largest) ask as an example. If they can’t describe it clearly enough for a novice to understand, they might not have been part of the whole process. If the story is not passionate, you should wonder about their ability to convince donors. Look for energy. If you are bored, then think how donors will feel talking with them.
  • Request dollars raised instead of percentages. An increase of 100% sounds impressive until you find out that that the original number was $5,000. Find out where the money came from: if 50% came from a three-year federal grant written by the executive director and 40% was a planned gift set up on the candidate’s predecessor’s watch, then only 10% was actually raised.
  • Ask each candidate for stories about how they have stewarded gifts. Were they warm and friendly? Did they have strong follow-through? How did they acknowledge gifts? How did they keep in contact with donors? What kind of correspondence have they been accustomed to producing? Did they write you a thank-you note after a phone or in- person interview? If not, how well will they steward donors in this new economy?
  • Get examples of their networking skills. Do they like to network? Are they involved in their community? Are they comfortable and available to network at lunches, dinners, and other functions? Do they have a Rolodex of donors?
  • See if they are really connected and passionate with your organization’s mission. Why do they want to work at your organization? What aspect of your organization attracted them? If a fundraiser is not passionate about the mission for which they are raising money, most likely, they will not be successful.
  • Be prepared to talk about how your organization plans to raise money in this new economy. What are the consequences of unmet fundraising goals? Is your operating budget fully dependent on dollars raised? Be honest so that the candidate understands the risks and responsibilities that will rest on his or her shoulders. No one wants any surprises. Ask candidates how they will handle donations in this new economy, especially if a donor reduces the amount pledged or puts the pledge on hold.
  • Be flexible when negotiating salaries. If you can’t pay the salary your top candidate wants, can you give them other valuable forms of compensation that might mean a lot to them but not cost your organization as much? Be creative. Can you give them free parking, a laptop and blackberry, or more training? Can they work one day from home? Can you plan a six-month review with a possible increase if the economy improves? Remember, a new search can cost more than the increase a candidate is requesting.
Ellen Sibley leads a portfolio of searches for the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, an executive search and leadership development consulting firm dedicated to strengthening the capacity of nonprofits and their staff.
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