Let’s start with the assumption you want to hire someone to raise money for your cause and organization who’ll get results while contributing to the team. Not a unicorn, but a real person with faults, weakness, and inexperience in certain areas but real strengths, talents, and attitude to carry the day.
Still with me? Good, because there are plenty of people out there who would make a great fundraiser for your organization. You need to find them, talk to them, commit to them and ask them to commit to you and your organization.
MUST Have or Be
Hustle, Drive, Initiative . . . call it what you will, but it’s the essence of someone who’ll shine as a fundraiser. Someone who’ll tackle challenges, see opportunity and push to the goal. How can you find this? By asking them. Ask how they overcame previous, almost insurmountable challenges (personal, business, no matter). BONUS: Ask how they’ve handled failure and how they moved on.
Friendly, Affable - Does your prospective fundraiser like people? If not, well people give to people, and they generally don’t give to those who don’t like them or the rest of humanity. Conversely, someone who genuinely takes an interest in others doe not judge is someone donors will always welcome.
Disciplined - Throughout the years I’ve seen millions of dollars fall through the cracks because someone didn’t have the discipline to follow-up. I’ve also talked to donors that were inspired to give because we had the focus to simply carry our what we said we’d do
A Dreamer - someone who sees what “can be” from the “what is” is the right fundraiser. In fact, they’re more realistic than the pessimist. They see the realistic possibilities, while the cynic sees nothing. The dreamer knows one gift, one donor, or one great campaign can make all the difference.
Enthusiasm and Passion - donors know when someone cares or does not - having a fundraiser who sincerely believes and demonstrates that belief in your cause is absolutely necessary. They advocate, translate, and, ultimately, represent you. You need someone who represents your cause in the best possible way because they genuinely care.
Authentic, Sincere- be real, with the donors, about the organization, what a gift can do, and what a gift can’t do. People don’t have time for you to be someone you’re not. You don’t have time or energy to be someone you’re not!
Fundraising Skills and Fundraising Experience - have they asked and successfully secured six-figure gifts? Do they understand how a fundraising portfolio is created and managed? Have they developed and managed an annual giving calendar? All of these skills and experience count. Would you hire a plumber who’s never plumbed?
What’s NOT necessary
Charm - extremely overrated. Yes, it might open a door or entice a conversation, but it often is a substitute for authenticity and lack of true understanding of fundraising.
Connections - sorry, but those who name-drop that “I know such-and-such” don’t understand fundraising. I’ve helped secure hundreds of millions of dollars and can’t think of a single one that was ever the result of a donor making a gift because they liked a fundraiser personally.
Technical Skill or Background Specific to the Cause - sorry, but this not paramount or even that helpful at times. A fundraiser is an expert in relationship-building, not anything else. I once hired a chemist to raise money for the chemistry department. Bad idea. He could talk chemistry all day long . . . but didn't know how to engage people and get them excited to give.
Gravitas or “that look” - yeah, this is just a silly notion that someone “looks” like a fundraiser and commands that attention donors are so looking for. Similar to the movie Moneyball, where major league scouts say they can just spot a good pitcher, by the way, he "looks,” rather than letting your gut alone dictate your choice, factor in the experience, accomplishments, and numbers help you decide. Donor’s don’t give because of a fundraiser's "look." They might give if a good fundraiser helps them achieve their philanthropic goals.
Lack of Integrity (lying) - the fact is there are plenty of bad actors out there. Good news though, LinkedIn and so many sources make just a few phone calls away from finding these red flags.
Can’t Ask - No harm here. I could NEVER work a spreadsheet all day. But I’d never apply to be an accountant. Unfortunately, too many people that think of fundraising as something other than asking for money. Sorry, it’s a core component.
Quitters - quitting is all within someone’s control. NO campaign or fundraising drive I’ve been part of ever was a slam-dunk, certainty or without its challenges. The common denominator is raw persistence - to overcome problems, realize there are multiple ways to solve a problem and realize that good luck is merely the outcome of persistence.
How to Spot Them
Open-ended questions are great, with lots of follow-up questions about details. So if they say, “I’m really good at painting a picture for donors of what their gift can mean to an organization,” ask them for an example with detail. When you ask about the drive or initiative, ask for a specific example.
Two of Your Best Questions
If you really would like to boil it down, here are two questions I’ve asked that has never failed me and helped me hire some of the best fundraisers I’ve ever worked with.
1. “Why do you like fundraising?” If they don’t know or can’t tell you, that’s a problem.
2. “Why do you think you’re good?” This answer will give you a real insight into how they’ll go about building relationships with donors and work with you as well as other staff and volunteers.
So, Keep in Mind
Time is not on your side, but rushed hires that are not good for you or your organization will cost you far more time to undo the damage. Still, good candidates will not sit on their hands waiting for you to make a decision. Furthermore, these are the decisive go-getters you want.
So, as quick as possible:
Take the qualities you MUST have.
Think about what you’d LIKE to have.
And make sure you’re not getting what you should NOT have.
Finally, when you interview, make sure you're enthusiastic, don’t insist on hiring the unicorn while passing on the good (not perfect) candidates, and make sure you know what you're looking for.