Hiring tips for Director of Development Positions

Charity Search Group Hiring Development Staff
Hiring Development Staff

Tips for hiring development staff

When hiring fundraisers or development staff in general, one thing to remember is that fundraisers are excellent communicators, and you must go beyond standard questions to really find out what differentiates one candidate from another.

The right questions to ask:

If you ask a very simple traditional question about their experiences with donors, every fundraiser I’ve ever met for an interview always has a pretty good story to tell about their favorite donor or the largest gift I’ve ever worked on. This is a very basic question they are used to answering all the time. I think you need to go a little bit beyond that and really ask them the how and the why when they start talking about, their approach towards fundraising. Because this is where people differ. For example, experienced fundraisers will always tell you how important it is to build a relationship with donors. Relationship building is something that is emphasized in multiple professional development opportunities and the literature in general. It is something that every fundraiser feels strongly about. Very few fundraisers actually have a good handle on how they build relationships and why they do it their way.

Finding out how they go about building relationships will also determine how they are going to get along with your donors or not. So for example, one way to build relationships with donors is to have a lot of frequent interactions and really understand where a person is coming from and their entire history. And that’s good if you’re at an organization where they will have opportunities and access to a lot of donors all the time. On the other hand, others tend to be a little bit more systematic in the way they approach building relationships. So they  talk a little bit about establishing trust and delivering on promises and managing it a little bit more like a project when it comes to delivering on the promises they make to donors.

That may lend itself well for a particular donor personality that you may be dealing with. It is not so much about matching the perfect fundraising style with your donor base. It is about hiring a fundraiser who has the self-awareness to understand what their style is.

Additionally, look for fundraisers who have worked on two consecutive gifts from the same donor and believe it or not, that is very rare. It’s quite common for fundraisers to stay in a particular role for about 12 to 18 months, work on one gift from a donor and never see them again. That’s okay. It shows that they’re able to close gifts, but it doesn’t show you that they’re able to strategize and go beyond that and worry about the next gift, which is really important when it comes to maximizing fundraising results, because it’s not the first gift that’s the largest usually.

Also consider how they are going to build relationships with internal staff. It is just as important as building relationships with donors. We are hiring fundraisers to be frontline facing and to interact with donors outside of our organization. But sometimes the most effective fundraisers are those that are able to build strong relationships inside the organization so that they can line up all the ducks in order to present the funding opportunities to donors and take advantage of the donors interest.

It i’s important that you ask them how they go about establishing relationships internally, particularly if they’re going to be in the leadership position or the role has a significant amount of interaction with senior leaders. 

The Interview Process:

Don’t discount the phone interview. We have become fairly comfortable with Zoom and video calls in general. And they’re great. Sometimes they can also be a little bit distracting. You can get a lot of substance when you’re just talking to someone and when they don’t have the problem of being uncomfortable or feeling like they’re presenting because they’re in front of a camera. With a phone interview you can just concentrate on what they have to say. So, definitely utilize the phone where appropriate, and then I would strongly urge you to balance projects and assignments with the stage of the interview. I think increasingly in our industry, we’re seeing a trend towards practical application of skills rather than traditional question and answer interviews. This is great at the last stage of the interview process. Some candidates are reluctant to invest a lot of effort and time in preparation for presentations and assignments if they feel that they are competing with a lot of people. 

When to use a recruiting firm:

If you are thinking about some of the challenges you may have had with recruiting talented fundraising staff, here’s the advice that I can give you: Think about using a recruitment firm when you do not have the time and resources to dedicate to the recruitment process.

It’s really important that you take the recruitment process seriously. It’s not something you want to do off the side of your desk. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not in a position or  a frame of mind where you’re able to dedicate the time and resources to manage the process end to end, which means you need to review applicants with some urgency, you need to get back to applicants and provide frequent updates and manage the process in a reasonable timeframe. If you’re not able to do that and you don’t have the bandwidth, it’s good sometimes to use the resources of a recruiting firm that can streamline that process and save you a lot of time. You also want to consider using a recruiting firm when you have not attracted the right candidates in the past. This can be due to many reasons.

When you work with a recruitment firm, they will try to figure out why that is the case. Sometimes it’s because your organization doesn’t have brand recognition, sometimes it’s because it has a different brand reputation than you think it does. Sometimes it’s because the job description may not be appealing enough, so it could be any number of things. This is where a recruiting company is helpful because they engage with candidates one-on-one and they’re able to provide them with more information about a potential job, and also answer any questions before someone considers even applying for a role. Increasingly today, a candidate has a question about a particular job or some aspect of it and she/he feels like there’s no one to answer it for them. So, consider your availability when you are thinking about whether to use a recruiting company. 

When you need a very specific combination of skills and experience, this is also where recruiting firms are helpful because they’re very good at finding the needle in the haystack.

I think the most important thing I can stress is that when, you have a vacancy on your fundraising team, you’re losing money. On average it costs about $70,000 in lost fundraising revenue every time you have to replace a high-performing fundraiser. So the longer that position stays vacant, the bigger that number grows. It’s important that you handle the replacement of your senior fundraisers in an efficient way…. So they can be back out there raising money for your organization. The money that you would spend on recruiting firms sometimes will be money that will more than pay for itself, by way of increased revenue in a much shorter term time frame and also more revenue long term.

Charity Search Group offers free consultations to anyone who’s currently thinking about recruiting senior leaders and fundraising professionals. Feel free to reach out to us at info@charitysearchgroup.com.  We work exclusively with the nonprofit sector and we are the most affordable service that you can find when it comes to generating a competitive pool of applicants for your senior fundraiser and executive leader positions.




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