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Karen’s Friends and Fortune Flowchart

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. . . .

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