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How to Hire Exceptional Development Staff

Here is a brief excerpt from Let’s Raise Nonprofit Millions Together:

Imagine you’re hiring a new development staff member. You sit at your desk flipping through a stack of candidate emails. Your first task is to discern who to interview.

The Written Word

To help, here’s some wisdom springing from a conversation I had with Matthew Bissett, vice president for advancement at Eckerd College. Evaluate written materials, such as resumes and email letters, to see if they demonstrate suitable writing and development skills.

Review the cover letter. Does it contain a large number of ego strokes for the writer? If so, pass on the applicant. While positive self-esteem is a must, avoid egomaniacs. Successful development specialists pull people together for the common good. It’s the cause and case that generate donations, not individuals.
Is the letter customized? Did the writer write to an individual or a mailbox? Did they create a personalized case for an interview? Customization suggests they will treat donors as unique.

Moreover, did the candidate show you how you’re connected? Links might mention that you once met, went to the same college, once vacationed in your state, and so forth. Since the individual you will hire will meet many new people, sharing a link in their letter suggests that the person understands how to kindle relationships.

Finally, does the material contain proper grammar? Do they use short paragraphs that match our Twitter-like attention spans? Do the words convey warmth without too much ease? If you hire the applicant, he or she will represent your organization. Will they do a worthy job?

This evaluation, along with a review of different backgrounds and experiences will help you to reduce your pool of candidates to a reasonable number. Now it’s time to conduct interviews.


If you still have lots of candidates, begin with telephone interviews. The telephone, like the letter, is an essential development tool.

Listen to how different candidates answer your questions and to the questions they ask. How do their telephone skills compare to other candidates?

During interviews, both on the phone and in person, seek answers to these questions:

How many small gifts from new donors did the person obtain last year? (Small gifts tend to reflect the work of individuals. Major gifts necessitate teamwork.)
What evidence does the person offer of being a self-starter?

What indications does the candidate give of employing a collective approach to raising funds?

Does the individual match the style of the person to whom they are speaking? (Yes, more than one person should interview your top candidates.)

Is the candidate vetting your organization? (Good candidates want to understand the challenges they’ll face and seek a good fit too.)

Does the conversation conclude with a next step-that is, a mini-contract about who will do what next and the timeline? (This contract improves your confidence in the candidate’s ability to move donor relationships forward.)

Now that I’ve outlined a best practice development candidate process ,let’s turn to the task of hiring a CEO who supports development efforts and the teamwork behind the Let’s Raise Nonprofit Millions Together process. I focus on hiring an executive without a fundraising background. . . .

To purchase your copy, follow this link.

More Not-To-Do Tips

Your time is precious. You need more help and resources. To help you invest your time well, I help leaders, like you, blow the fluff and smoke away. As the air clears, you see your best path and work you no longer need to do or do in the same way. Each chapter of Let’s Raise Nonprofit Millions Together concludes with a Not-To-Do Tip that my clients use to become better leaders.

Below, you’ll find even more tips to make each day productive. Use them to control the mayhem.

1. QUIT Making General Requests

At a meeting, you announce that everyone needs to invite someone to the next event. You get the usual response: nothing. To avoid this and weak responses: get personal, specific, and repetitive or –PSR.

Here’s an example. Before the meeting, contact as many attendees as possible. Share the request. Discuss the invitation until you learn the name of the invitee. Coach the individual on how to make the request, as necessary.

At your meeting, make your request. Ask the individuals with whom you worked to share their progress.

At every meeting before your event, ask for an update. Sprinkle generous praise on all progress.

Stop general requests. Use PSR. You’ll get results and grow skills.

2. CEASE Taking Tiny Steps When Large Ones Are Required

In a book about companies that have survived hundreds of years, Living Company, author Aries de Geus, shares that enduring companies “reacted early rather than later, by foresight rather than catch-up.” Here’s an example during the Great Recession from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa. CEO Steven Koch made two salary cuts, instead of laying staff off. The first was 5 percent; the second, less than a year later, was 9 percent.

The result? Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa emerged from the recession with staff intact. Many nonprofits did not. Be bold and take giant steps.

3. STOP Visiting Broken Cash Machines

Eliminate habits that provide little or no rewards, especially those that once brought them. For example, stop hoping a donor who funded you a decade ago will return your calls. By all means, reach out occasionally, but plan another way to obtain the revenue.

You have a river of opportunities outside your door. Seek them instead of dried-up options.

4. HALT Saying, “Thank You, and.”

That is, stop making the sharing of gratitude a prelude to another request. Express your appreciation and stop. Allow your gratefulness to stand out. When you leave space, your recognition will be savored.

What happens when we fail to do this? People stop hearing gratitude. Instead, when you thank them, they plan how they’ll respond to your forthcoming request.

5. END the Impossible.

You have a lot of great board members. Offer them the opportunity to improve their skills and help the organization. Along the way, you might discover that one, several, or even a dozen members won’t participate, no matter what you do. (For more, read: How to Deal with Boards Who Won’t Fundraise.)

In these cases, cut your losses. Move to other solutions. For instance, form an advisory team to help with resource development. Seek a solution, not an impossible dream.

6. STOP Putting Donor Work on the Backburner.

With all the responsibilities you face, it’s easy to let building donor relationships slip by the wayside. While they are a high priority, they lack a specific deadline.

Instead, each week, set a goal to meet with two donors face-to-face. In a year, you’ll talk to 104 contributors and build a foundation for long-term support.

7. QUIT One and Done

Avoid ending conversations, correspondence, or any gathering without a next step. These are known as one and done events, They end relationships. Instead, outline what’s next. Doing so moves your agenda forward. It also creates an expectation that you’ll meet again and continue your relationship.

You do this with your board when you say, “We’ll pick this up again at our June 15 meeting.” You help donors when you close thank-you notes by adding, “I looking forward to seeing you at the January 30 event.” Replacing dead-ends with next steps generates forward movement.

For more, download Chapter 1 of Let’s Raise Nonprofit Millions Together