The Dos and Don’ts of Hiring a Fundraiser

publication date: Apr 24, 2017
author/source: Leah Eustace, MPhil, MInstF, CFRE, ACFRE

After decades of being embarrassed to tell people what we do, likened to used car salesmen, and facing statements like "surely you aren't paid to do that," fundraising is finally being recognized as a vocation. Thank goodness for that.

Over the past ten years, as both a partner in a consulting firm, and a consultant to small and mid-size charities, I've done my fair share of hiring. And I've learned a few things. Somehow, we've lost sight of what it really takes to be an exceptional fundraiser. We focus on dollars raised, number of events held, education received ... and we've forgotten the most important things: Love of humanity, love of people, a caring outlook, and passion. We forgot about passion.

Personality, passion, and culture fit are a big deal. Someone may have an impressive resume with a long list of jobs, but if they don't fit with your culture, and aren't passionate about your cause, I guarantee the relationship won't last. What are the clues that will help you determine fit?

Here are my tips:

  • Look for cover letters that speak to a connection to your cause.
  • Look for evidence that they're taking this seriously

    • They've done their research,
    • They know what you do, and
    • They know the task at hand.

  • When candidates show up for an interview pretend, for a moment, that you're a potential donor being approached for an ask:

    • Are they confident?
    • Do they have a firm handshake?
    • Do they have presence?
    • Do they work to establish an immediate connection with you?

I've worked with many small non-profits over the years helping them hire a fundraiser that is a true fit. Too often I've seen small non-profits hire a fundraiser who looks okay on paper, but ends up setting them back by a year or two. They don't know what questions to ask or the red flags to pay attention to.

Here's how I separate the wheat from the chaff.

I watch their eyes during the interview. Our eyes tell a million stories and when their eyebrows lift, and their eyes sparkle, I know I've found someone with a passion for the cause and a passion for connecting donors to the causes that are important to them.

I ask strategic questions. My favourite question is, "What's the role of special events in a healthy fundraising program?" In my mind, this question is so important that you could ask only this question and find the right candidate for the job. What I'm looking for in an answer is that special events are great ways of building community, recognizing donors, and keeping volunteers engaged. A red flag is raised when a candidate sees them as the primary source of revenue in a fundraising program.

I ask them what attracted them to the job ad. What I hope for is a connection to the cause. I find a way to have them tell me a story. A trick we use at Good Works is the candidate picks one folded piece of paper from a basket then speaks to the topic for one minute. The pieces of paper say things like, "love," "family," or "pet."

There are other ways to attract good candidates to your job opening. Yes, a high salary will certainly attract candidates, but who among us can offer a six-figure salary to a seasoned fundraiser? Instead, think about other benefits you can offer

  • Flexible work day; ability to work from home;
  • Great health benefits;
  • Time off during the day for volunteer work; or a
  • Healthy professional development budget.

These benefits make a huge difference to today's candidates.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? How do you find the best candidates, and how do you avoid the ones who just don't fit?

Leah Eustace, MPhil, MInstF, CFRE, ACFRE, is President of Blue Canoe Philanthropy and a Partner at Good Works. She also volunteers her time as Chair of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy Canada, a member of the AFP Canada Board of Directors, and a member of the CAGP National Board. You can contact Leah at or on twitter @LeahEustace

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