How to Hire Fundraising Staff, Part 1

How to Hire Fundraising Staff, Part 1

Happy New Year!

I will spend a good part of 2012 helping two organizations find and train new Development Director positions, and the prospect has spurred me to devote some time to researching and sorting out my own thoughts about hiring fundraising staff for land trusts. It seems like a good January topic, and I am planning to devote the next several Blog Posts to it.

Let’s start with some survey facts from the Association of Fundraising Professionals:

  • The average tenure for a Development Officer at an organization is 18 months
  • The median salary for a Development Officer is $69K; $62K for environmental organizations


That’s a lot of money to risk for someone who might not last in the position very long. For non-profit organizations, there are two positions for which demand significantly exceeds supply, development and information tech. What this means is that young professionals in either of these fields can stay with an organization for years, receiving annual merit raises of 2-4 percent per year and doubling their initial salary, say, in 20-25 years, or they can job hop every 12-24 months and double their salary in 6-8 years.

If you think about this too long, it drives you crazy. It takes a full year for a new Development Director to really get a good feel for an organization, perhaps even longer for land trusts because of the internal complexity of the work. It may take as much as another year or two before a good DoD really starts hitting on all cylinders. After a three-year investment, the organization would certainly hope to get three-to five years of decent productivity out of the position. It doesn’t help if they leave after two years.

More bad news: Few tenured Development Directors would consider directing the fundraising for a land trust a stepping stone on their ideal career path. I have seen several organizations hire a seasoned development professional only to be jilted six months later when that person spied a more attractive job opening elsewhere.

So what do we do? I’ll start with five hiring principles:

  1. Take the time to be picky. Have a clear search image in mind before you start the hiring process, and understand up front that it may take months to find the right person. The general rule of thumb is one month for every $10,000 in salary. For example you might start a new DoD at $40,000 (I’ll address salary more completely next week); be prepared for a four month (or longer!) search. More importantly, be prepared to throw the whole lot out and start the search over if the right candidate isn’t there to begin with.
  2. Prioritize commitment to mission. The most important driver of dedication and longevity in the position is a deeply rooted commitment to your mission. Hiring passion and training for skills is easier and more reliable than hiring skills and experience and expecting the candidate to fall in love with you. Look for demonstrable evidence. Ask questions that will reveal candidates’ values related to the work your organization does.
  3. Look at who’s working for other organizations. The best candidates for your job are probably already employed. One of the best fundraisers I ever hired was a sales rep from a graphic design company we used. So look at who’s working for other organizations, and particularly those with similar missions. I’m not talking about just other fundraisers. Look for overqualified support positions and interns, too.
  4. Hire talent over experience. Remember that much of the work of a good Development Director is behind the scenes; in the words of Kim Klein, to oversee fundraising, rather than to actually raise money. The successful candidate will be able to quickly gain the confidence of the Executive Director and the Board Directors and will be someone they will follow through the annual fundraising activities. In this sense, good people skills and listening skills, the ability to create and manage systems, and overall attention to detail are more important qualities than prior experience with fundraising work. According to Kim Klein, “any job requiring self-motivation, good organizational skills, and planning and working with diverse groups” will show skills related to fundraising.
  5. Invest in training. Assuming you do end up hiring someone with little or no fundraising experience, make sure they get adequate training right away and throughout their first few years on the job. Rally is a good venue, as well as LTA’s more regional training conferences. Got some software that is unfamiliar at first? Pay for your new hire to travel to a different land trust using the same software program to shadow someone there. AFP also offers regional and national training sessions. If you have the right candidate, this expenditure will be well worth the investment.

For an excellent primer on hiring a Director of Development, check out this article from Kim Klein.

Got a good story (or horror story) about hiring? Advice? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.






Photo: Winter Pine, Walt Kaesler

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