Hiring good fundraisers: Do you look for the 000 factor?

Published by Rachel Beer on


I was speaking to a friend the other day – who used to be a fundraiser and is now a top-notch, specialist recruitment consultant for fundraisers – about what we’d like to improve in fundraising. We had a great chat, but it was with some regret that I recognised the same points that come up in discussions with almost everyone I know that works in fundraising – and in many of the blog posts here.

If I were to attempt to chunk these up, almost all fall into the broad category of ‘short-termism’.  You hear about it all the time on this blog, in frustrated posts about charities putting more focus on donor acquisition than donor retentionfailures in donor development (let alone relationship fundraising and lack of innovation and succession planning, not to mention the dissatisfaction about teams and departments working in ‘silos’ and individuals focused only on meeting their individual targets (silos of one).

Hiring good people and building great teams has to be key in addressing many of these challenges.  But there seems to be some consensus about there being ‘a lack of talented people applying for fundraising jobs’, and many organisations are opting to ‘make their own’ fundraisers to address this; recruiting through internship programmes or at trainee level.
Given this environment, I was surprised, disappointed and frustrated when I discovered, during our conversation, how much emphasis seems to be placed on financial achievements during candidate selection – particularly at the initial stage, on CVs.  My friend told me that, in the majority cases, candidates won’t be selected for interview if their CV doesn’t state how much they have raised, and that the larger the sums, the more likely a candidate would be selected.  The same, apparently, goes for budgets and sizes of team; clients like to see ‘the scope’.  Not only that, but candidates are encouraged to state what they have personally raised in each financial year; one set of CV guidelines I’ve seen actually stated, ‘It’s what you’ve brought in that counts’.

Now, before you think I’m a complete idiot, I haven’t forgotten we’re talking about recruiting fundraisers here.  Of course we need to know they can raise funds.  I get that.  I’m just not sure that selecting CVs based on financial achievements is really going to tell you what you need to know.  Or get you the kind of people you really want.

The good recruitment consultants know this and, they say, they only counsel candidates to present their credentials in this manner because it’s what their clients want – and they know their candidates won’t get past the first hurdle otherwise.  You can’t blame them.  Their job is to sell candidates and they need to pay their mortgage/the rent the same as you do.

What about the people making the hiring decisions?  Presented with a load of CVs – some with financial details and some without, some of them with big, impressive figures and some much smaller.  Don’t you think you’d be swayed by the zeros?  As much as I hate to admit it, I think I might find they’d influence me.

But this could be excluding some really good people – as well as people with real potential.  And it fails to account for a wide variety of factors that you would look for in good fundraising or good fundraisers.

I thought about those people from smaller charities who might not look as good ‘on paper’ as candidates whose experience has come from larger organisations, where budgets and income are higher, but who might be excellent fundraisers, getting the best possible results in challenging circumstances.  I thought about those people in support roles, who play an important part in income generation, but perhaps as little less directly, or who might not have access to all of the data to give their CV the ‘000 factor’.

I thought about my own CV.  Even though I’ve worked with more charities than I can now remember, have developed even more campaigns and strategies, and now work as a fundraising consultant and trainer, I’ve never kept a record of how much income the campaigns I’ve worked on have raised.  Nor could I give you a grand total; I haven’t ever had time to think about that, let alone keep a tally.  Don’t get me wrong – I always know how well campaigns have performed, I’ve always produced detailed reviews, analysed the results, learned and improved using the insights.  But that was the point – not resting on my laurels.

Then there’s the concept of what I’ve ‘personally raised’, which is is completely alien.  I can see how this is relevant to major donor and trust fundraisers, where they are working in a relatively singular way.  But how could I claim I have ‘personally raised’ anything when I’ve always worked as part of a team?  Which bit of the income was the bit I’d ‘personally raised’? And when I reached the point where I was managing a team, how could I claim the team’s total as my own?  Surely most organisational fundraising is a team effort and is all the more effective for it?  And isn’t that the spirit we want to encourage to break out of these 19th Century silos that are causing so many problems?  All of this is completely putting aside the point that looking at total raised overlooks a lot of other very important details – it’s only part of the picture.

Perhaps because I have worked agency side for most of my career that all of this initially came as a surprise to me.  I’m so used to screening CVs for skills and expertise, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with amounts of funds raised included on it.  Come to that, I don’t care which university someone has been to, or what class their degree is.  I’m far more interested in things like the diversity of their experience, which might indicate they are adaptable, as well as all of the really useful transferable skills they might bring (worked in customer services – great, you’ll be good with people and you’ll understand how important good customer care is!).  For me, some of the best bits of a CV are usually hidden away at the bottom, in the personal interests section.  This is often where people include hobbies and details about involvement in clubs, societies and of volunteering that indicate to me that a candidate is motivated, entrepreneurial, creative, determined, passionate, interested in the world, that they like to learn and develop themselves, and last but definitely not least, that they are committed to working in the charity sector or to playing their part in changing the world for the better.

I honestly believe that if someone has the right attitude – they really want to be a great fundraiser – and is smart enough to grasp it, they can learn the rest.

That’s just my perspective, but I wanted to hear from some people working at charities, and responsible for hiring and training fundraisers, about what they think is important, so I took a quick Twitter straw poll and received a few interesting responses:

I was heartened that people focused so much on attitudinal qualities – although I appreciate it is much harder to read those in a CV.  I just wonder how many people with those qualities get as far as interview, if their CVs don’t include impressive income figures?

I wanted to finish off my sharing this list of 11 ‘Killer Fundraiser Attributes’ very kindly sent to me by Michael McGrath, Co-founder, CEO of The Muscle Help Foundation:

Someone that can –

  1. inspire action in others
  2. naturally be creative in their approach
  3. can build an authentic pipeline
  4. be administratively brilliant
  5. be intuitive
  6. be a great listener
  7. bring/connect people together
  8. share heartfelt stories as examples
  9. captivate attention within 15secs
  10. understands ‘how’ to ask
  11. smile in their narrative/chat

Michael ended by saying, ‘That all said, you can wrap as many KPI’s and KPA’s around a fundraisers role as you want but at the end of the day, nothing … and I mean nothing beats someone with genuine natural passion – not only is it infectious but it will also help to deliver results to your bottom-line which ultimately is what any charity (especially small ones) are surely after.’

I couldn’t have put it better.  Thanks Michael.

Rachel Beer

Rachel Beer has been a professional fundraiser since 1999, with experience gained from at several fundraising creative agencies in the UK, as well as in house. Currently a fundraising consultant, she specialises in helping organisations to take their fundraising to the next level – creating fundraising brands, appeals and campaigns that excite existing supporters and attract new donors and fundraisers. She also works with teams in house at charities, helping them to develop the skills to get the best possible results. In 2008, Rachel created NFPtweetup - a regular series of events to promote effective use of technology in the charity sector, and she is well known as a fundraising expert, digital specialist and strategist for the third sector.


Han Valk · August 26, 2013 at 21:47

Thanks for this blog Rachel. I think it all comes done to one central question: What do you expect your ‘fundraiser’ to do? In other words, ‘WHY’ do you hire at all? There is no such thing as A fundraiser in my opinion. There are many different kind of fundraisers. It all depends on the task you give to them. For some (most?) the list Michiel works fine, for some it won’t.

I think there is one common ground that binds all fundraisers together. A good fundraiser is able to higher the chance of raising support. A fundraiser does not raise on its own (and cannot claim the successes as personal successes), but can help organizations to higher the chance of acquire sufficient support for the cause.

Higher the chance of raising sufficient support can be in finding potential donors, or in convincing them to support or keep supporting the cause. But also in e.g. writing or database management. All is needed in good fundraising and needs to be addressed in the recruitment procedure.

madeleine · September 11, 2013 at 11:17

Hi Rachel, great post as usual.

I think it is crucial that fundraisers have empathy and understanding of the cause they are raising funds for. Not just so they can be truthful, persuasive and real but because ultimately this creates smoother working relationships within the organisation. For example, I often see a tussle between fundraisers and campaigners within organisations because fundraisers are still using the soft music, slow motion, pat the needy person on the head type messages rather than understanding the complex nature of the issues related to the cause which the campaigners are trying to resolve.

So really it is bigger than just one person, more about the culture of the fundraising teams and the wider organisation. But still the responsibility of the recruiter to ask about the cause.

Mazarine · September 15, 2013 at 02:35

HI Rachel!

Thanks for bringing up this important distinction.

How much have “you personally” raised is a bit of a red herring because as we all know:

1. You work in a team with event fundraising and if the event has been going on for a long time with lots of success, you are more likely to be successful than if it’s a new event for a new org.

2. Your grants success is often due to board member influence and work of previous fundraisers

3. Ditto your major gifts success not to mention

4. Your appeal letter success will be determined by a) if people are used to being solicited, so the previous people in the position, plus b) the size of the list plus c) how well the donors have been cultivated, thanked, etc by previous people.

So no matter where you go, in any fundraising position in an organization over 2 years old, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. And that is what a CV can never convey.

Of course you’d be swayed by someone saying they had raised $10 million. But when I help fundraisers with their resumes, I try to emphasize improvements they’ve made, process improvements, not just how much they brought in over the previous year.

And I try to emphasize that they have a depth of experience with various fundraising tasks. I would be much more likely to hire someone who had a certain number of years of experience in direct mail appeals and writing grants than someone who simply stated, “I’ve raised $10M.”

Penelope Burk talks about this in her new book, Donor Centered Leadership. Charities are always complaining they can’t find qualified fundraisers.

Maybe because they want 3 people’s jobs in one person, for 1/2 of a good salary? But I covered this in my research report, did you see it?



Ira Caplan · October 9, 2013 at 16:58

Thanks Rachel; your article and the responses you drew from the Twitter crew put a surprising ‘fundraising enthusiasm’ in the 5:51 pm portion of my day. I’m in what is basically my first fundraising position ever, for what I think is a totally cool ecologic and social business — electronics recycling by a special needs workforce. In terms of building a network, channels of activity and adminsitration I’ve surpassed previously conceived limits in so many areas. But in terms of the bottom line, I’m far from having ‘arrived’ and surprise, surprise, I’m not happy. Glimpsing your world as a consultant and trainer, and that of your peers, wakes me up to the real people who have walked this walk and reached the kind of successes I envision and know are possible. Really, like a cup of coffee brewing from the next firepit, in the middle of a season of Survivor, right before my next reward challenge. Thanks Rachel, I’m going to hit the ground running; and I’ll be remembering your article when I hear Jeff Probst say “Ira has won immunity (and reward :))!” Very best to you and your current team, Ira ecommunity U.S. liaison. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ecommunity-s-first-indiegogo-campaign/x/2461066

Fundraisingwoche vom 26.08.-01.09.2013 | sozialmarketing.de - wir lieben Fundraising · September 2, 2013 at 18:02

[…] Share Information? Fired Up: My Top 10 Year-End Fundraising Strategies for 2013 101Fundraising: Hiring good fundraisers: Do you look for the 000 factor? 101Fundraising: The hype over ‘donor journeys’ Inspiring Generosity: 4 Giving Strategies You […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *