Recruit, Train, Retain, Part II

Develop a Pool of Strong Candidates

You can increase the likelihood of fundraiser success in your organization by ensuring that you create a strong pool of candidates from which to choose. Ideally this pools should include candidates with a CFRE, a nonprofit management degree, or multiple years of fundraising experience.  But if you can't find that person or can't afford that person, then do the next best thing: find a teachable person with the right combination of skills and attributes.


The Association of Fundraising Professionals lists the following essential attributes for fundraisers:




                 Ethics and integrity

                 Ability to listen well

                 Ability to tell a story

                 Strong values and a desire to make a difference

                 Dedication to and belief in the cause


Many organizations hire people for fundraising jobs who come from other professions. Common "crossovers" include marketing and public relations professionals, bankers or trust officers, social workers, and salespeople, among others.  While many of the skill sets required to be successful in these professions are shared by professional fundraising, expecting a “cross-over” candidate to understand the nonprofit world or be well-versed in fundraising is a mistake made by many nonprofits. These candidates will need more training and support than you might otherwise expect.


Here are some other characteristics or skill sets I believe you must look for in addition to those listed above, and that should help you weed out poor candidates.


Writing - Fundraising professionals must be good writers in order to be successful, especially in smaller shops. We write solicitation and thank you letters, grants, marketing materials, Case for Support and much more.  Be sure your prospect is a good writer (one tell-tale sign is the quality of their cover letter).  Ask for a writing sample to be sure.


Optimism - Ask your prospect about a time when things were really bad and what they did to rise above the situation. After all, fundraisers receive criticism and rejection regularly and sometimes things go very badly in our organizations and we must soldier forth with our heads held high.  If your prospect can't tell a story about overcoming obstacles with optimism and perseverance, then move on.


Willingness to learn and to try new things -Many people could become good fundraisers with some additional training so a person who is eager to learn and is humble enough to admit they don't have all the answers, is a good candidate. In addition, a candidate who is willing to seek out new ideas, assess their validity, and make a valiant attempt to implement those ideas, is a person who will succeed as a fundraiser for your organization. Bottom line: if you can't find a person with fundraising experience or training, make sure you find someone who is willing to learn and to try new things.


Looking and acting the part - If you go to a networking event for fundraising professionals, you'll find a group of people with positive demeanors, stellar manners, and impeccable dress.  Why? Because they have learned that to be successful in fundraising, one must look and act the part.  You have to be comfortable rubbing elbows with the very wealthy or at least look like you are.  A candidate who does not appear to have these attributes can still be successful (I've known many fantastic fundraisers who were neither charming nor stylish) but it sure helps make a positive first impression with a new donor.


To summarize: seek a pool of candidates that have the right level of education, experience, key skill sets and most of all, willingness to learn the craft of fundraising.