Questions to Ask When Hiring Fundraisers
By Drew Lindsay
Fundraising is an art, not a science. So how do you hire artists?
We put that question to a half-dozen veteran development executives. Specifically, we asked how they use interviews with candidates to determine whether someone has the personal qualities, experience, and talent to be a good frontline gift officer.
Here’s what they said, via email exchanges:
James Rygg, associate director of development, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Mr. Rygg says good fundraisers are fearless, so he asks candidates, "What scares you most about fundraising?"
Because fundraisers aren’t always comfortable with cold calling, he also likes to hear how people prepare for their first contact with a potential donor. What information do they need? If candidates are more focused on the prospect’s financials than his or her connection to the organization, "that’s not a good sign," Mr. Rygg says.
Another red flag: candidates promising to bring donors from their previous organization.
Kris Hermanns , chief executive officer of the Pride Foundation, which promotes LGBTQ equality in the Northwest
Ms. Hermanns and her staff like to ask: "What was one of your favorite or memorable summer jobs while growing up? What stands out to you from this experience now?" She says the answers can reveal a bit about candidates’ values and their ability to learn and grow.
They also ask fundraisers to describe their best experience as a donor. How the candidate responds often speaks to whether they’re a student of fundraising, "looking for unique or innovative approaches to add to their toolbox," Ms. Hermanns says.
Randa Safady , vice chancellor for external relations, University of Texas System
Ms. Safady says she digs deep into candidates’ backgrounds before issuing interview invitations. She’s looking for signs that they are high performers: "I don’t view development as work for the meek or someone eager to wind down their career." She also tries to adhere to the adage "hire for fit, train for skill."
One question she frequently asks: "Can you describe how you see your role in cultivating and securing a gift?" The answer can provide clues as to whether a fundraiser will take ownership of his or her work yet collaborate effectively and give credit to others.
Sandy Smith, regional chief development officer, American Red Cross of Georgia
Ms. Smith wants to gauge the candidate’s passion for her organization’s work. "With frontline fundraisers, if their passion isn’t visible, it inhibits their ability to close the gift or even get the appointment," she says.
Previously, when Ms. Smith was the lead development executive with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, she would ask whether prospective fundraisers attend concerts or play a musical instrument.
Jeanne Jachim, vice president, Virginia Mason Medical Center
Ms. Jachim often asks candidates to describe their work with a donor from the first meeting to the solicitation. The resulting narratives help her assess their skills as fundraisers but also as storytellers.
Dwayne Ashley , president of Bridge Philanthropic Consulting; has led fundraising efforts for Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast
He typically asks candidates to describe a difficult situation and how they resolved the matter: "Basically, what is the messiest situation you’ve dealt with [with] a donor or board, and how did you get that donor or board to actually give more?"
Erin Isabella , director of philanthropy and stewardship, Rhode Island Public Radio
Like Mr. Ashley, she wants to know about how a fundraiser handled adversity — specifically, a disastrous visit with a donor.
"We all have had donor visits from hell. We like to pretend we haven’t, but we have," Ms. Isabella says. "I feel like how we act in those situations — both in the moment and in relaying the story to someone else later — reveals a lot about a person, their work style, and adaptability with donors. I’m always looking at how one can hopefully take a negative experience and turn it into a positive outcome."
Send an e-mail to Drew Lindsay.