Fundraisers: you need to be one to hire one

Some months ago someone asked me why I spend so much time preparing the right set of questions for an interview panel. I told him that we only have one chance of doing this right. We can cross our fingers and hope to choose the right fundraiser, but if we don’t take this seriously enough it’s more likely that we hire the wrong candidate.

And the wrong fundraiser will make numerous awful decisions and will waste our time and the donor’s money before (s)he will soon leave again, having added little to no value to the program and leaving a demoralized team in the wake. Even worse is if they are not so awful, but almost average, and they don’t leave. Not for 10 years or so, because their boss thinks that’s the best there is out there, and they are OK. Welcome to the grey zone of uninspired, mediocre fundraising!

Instead, I try to be absolutely sure that the fundraiser we hire is the right one. Only the right fundraiser can actually get you the results you need.

Unfortunately — and you can see it happening around you — the wrong people are being appointed to crucial fundraising positions all the time. And it’s always a crucial position by the way! They are everywhere and on all levels. Also in your team. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the colleagues you are working with were actually the specialists they claim to be on LinkedIn? Wouldn’t it be nice if your boss is the visionary leader you’ve been waiting for all your life?

So, why are we hiring bad fundraisers?

Many things can go wrong. In some cases the wrong people are part of the recruitment panel. They ask the wrong questions. And the answers, whether they are right or wrong, are interpreted the wrong way. Why? Because they simply don’t have a profound understanding of the area they are hiring for.

If you are hiring to recruit specific expertise outside your own specialty, you probably don’t know if and when the right candidate is sitting opposite you. You really don’t. So you should involve other specialists who can help with the assessment.

The cost to the organization can be huge if the wrong person is appointed. You will miss out on future income. At the other end of the spectrum: the right person can transform your fundraising and take your organization to the next level. Both your donors and beneficiaries will be grateful when you hire the best.

Looking back I think I have a pretty good track record. Most of the people I’ve hired in my career have turned out to be valuable colleagues and great fundraisers. Why? I am one of them. I had done the function for which they were applying. And that helps a lot.

Recently I was part of the hiring process for the new Heads of Fundraising for SOS Children’s Villages and Save the Children. Bas and Sarah got the roles and I’m 200% convinced they’ll do a fantastic job. (Don’t let me down guys 😉 )


Here are some simple do’s and don’ts if you want to hire the best fundraiser:

1) Post a job add (!) instead of the job description as the vacancy. You need to market your vacancy. You want as many great fundraisers as possible to apply. Job descriptions are often not very sexy. Re-write them into something people might be interested in. I consider fundraising as a high demand, low supply profession, so there is a need to go the extra mile.

2) Spread the news as far as possible in relevant target audiences: specific vacancy websites obviously, but don’t forget the networks of your existing fundraisers. If they are a little bit externally focused (as any good fundraiser should be!) they’ve come across many talented fundraisers over the years and have a network of good, competent colleagues.

3) Do the shortlisting based on a scoring on a number of relevant criteria, e.g. ambition, leadership, entrepreneurship, market knowledge, vision on innovation, fit with the organization, understanding of fundraising strategy, data-driven, practical experience with donor acquisition, retention and high value programs, etc.

4) Don’t cut down on first-round interviews because of time restraints. If you want the best fundraiser you need to perhaps talk to 8 people instead of 4… It’s definitely worth 240 minutes more of your time to find the right person.

5) Put together the right interview panel, including experienced fundraisers. Not available within the organization? Hire someone from outside.

6) Do multiple interview rounds to be absolutely sure. It’s only the most important decision you’re making, so don’t take the easy route. An assessment, presentation or assignment in one of the interview rounds can be very helpful for certain positions.

7) Don’t settle for less! If you can’t find what you’re looking for: keep looking! Keep the bar at a certain level where you need it to be. If you’re absolutely convinced that the talent you’re looking for is not available, (and you can’t change the other parameters like salary or required skills) then make a very conscious decision that you need to invest in your new colleague to get them up to speed and to the level you want them to be.

8) Do a reference check at the end. Not just the official one, because that’s a friendly formality. You might also want to find out the true story why your favorite candidate has been job hopping or is looking to leave his or her current position, so reach out to your network and ask around.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

(Please leave your own do’s and don’ts in the comments underneath.)

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