Finding the Perfect Fundraising Fit for your Team
Over the course of my career, I’ve hired four fundraisers, with each interview process different than the last. Depending on the size of an organization, the development team may all work directly with donors or be more specialized and behind the scenes. Regardless of the details within the job description, I find fundraising a strange beast to hire for. No one comes to the table with a degree in fundraising, and experience rarely correlates to talent in making asks or donor stewardship. Most fundraisers bounce around from organization to organization (after all, the average fundraiser stays in a role for 18 months) and it can be tough to discern upward mobility from nonperformance.
So what do you do?
Leverage the hell out of the interview.
When it comes to finding the perfect fit for your fundraising team, particularly within a small shop, the interview is the single most important piece in candidate selection.
Can they tell you a story?
Good fundraising centers around storytelling; from a client anecdote to your organization’s history, successful fundraisers can paint a picture with words that calls the donor to action. If they can passionately and descriptively paint a picture of their previous work, they’ll have no problem discussing opportunities with donors. If they seem nervous or stumble in verbal descriptions, ask for past written work; sometimes written statements can move mountains, even if the author stumbles during the discussion.
Can they move you?
Are you getting the impression that the candidate is genuinely interested in your organization’s mission? If not, move on and never look back. Any fundraiser worth their salt can find some personal tie to a mission, some story, some personal moment that explains why they are sitting in the chair in front of you. If they don’t showcase a passion for the mission or love for the prospective opportunity, they won’t be able to sell it to donors. Also make sure that it is authentic, not-salesy, and rooted in integrity.
How do they ask?
In a fundraising interview it is more than acceptable to host a mock-fundraising ask. Learn about their comfort level with donor prospecting, conversation-driven fundraising, and gain valuable insight into their ask style.
Will they succeed in spite of all odds?
I often see fundraisers enter the field after prolonged periods in other sectors or as stay-at-home parents. While this is great, it is easy to forget or overlook how stressful fundraising at a small organization can be. Ask about how they’ll thrive under pressure and within a goal-oriented environment. You don’t have time or resources to waste on someone who is going to crack under pressure, so be candid and hopefully they will be too.
The more concretely you can set expectations and share information about the position, the better off you’ll be moving forward. Open, honest, communication is essential to success on any team, but especially when you have to make it rain money.